Launch of Primary Religious Education Curriculum
Diocese of Elphin Launch of the Catholic Preschool and Primary Religious Education Curriculum for Ireland
Address by Rev Michael Duignan, Episcopal Vicar for Education
Good evening! On behalf of Bishop Doran, I would like to welcome you all. In particular, I welcome the many parents, teachers, and principals, members of boards of management, priests, deacons and parish representatives who are present. Thank you for taking the time out from your busy schedules to join us this evening as we officially launch for the Diocese of Elphin – the Catholic Preschool and Primary Religious Education Curriculum for Ireland.
This is the first ever formal religious education curriculum for Catholic preschools and primary schools on the island of Ireland that is approved by the Irish Episcopal Conference and that has been given formal recognition by the Holy See.
A new curriculum
Although religious education has always been a foundational core subject in our Catholic schools – it may come as a surprise to many that it was the only subject that up until now did not have an approved, comprehensive and interconnected curriculum.
For the first time the curriculum we are launching tonight provides (1) a structured statement of the overall aims of Catholic preschool and primary religious education in Ireland and (2) an outline of what the religious education and formation that takes place in catholic preschools and primary school should consist of. As such it is a valuable guide, standard, resource, inspiration, and aid to all those involved in the work of educating and forming young children in the catholic faith.
I am genuinely excited by the prospects this development holds and the opportunity the implementation of the new curriculum offers for us not only to consider the foundational role religious education plays in our catholic schools but also, as a faith community, to re-imagine the religious education of our young people and to re-engage in the task in a manner not done before.
Good news shared
The immensely rich document Dei Verbum from the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) – emphasises that at the heart of Christianity lies the belief that the invisible God out of the abundance of His love speaks to men and women as friends and lives among them so that he may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself. (Dei Verbum 2)
It is living in such fellowship with God that the human search to make sense of life and living finds a credible answer and from such a friendship with God that we gain the moral compass that helps direct our lives on ways that better ourselves, our families, our communities and ultimately our world.
Each and every Christian generation wants to faithfully hand this Good News on to our children so that they too can experience and benefit from the supreme enhancement Christian faith gives to life and living. This “handing-on of the Good News” is what lies at the heart of catholic religious education and formation and at the heart of the new Curriculum.
Partners in education
The handing on of the precious jewel of Christian faith is first and foremost the role of parents who are described in the prayers at Baptism as the “first teachers of their child in the ways of faith.” (Rite of Baptism of Children).
It is the role of our catholic Christian communities and our priests and deacons to support and assist parents in this work. A very concrete expression of this support is to be found in our Catholic parish schools.
Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of the New Curriculum is the way in which it endeavours to connect these aspects of – home, school and parish – in a common task of achieving a religious education and formation for today’s children that will equip them to be faith filled adults in tomorrow’s world. We will hear more on this in the presentations later on from a parent, a teacher and a parish priest.
A living curriculum not a museum piece
Some of you might be familiar with the 2006 fantasy film – called A Night at the Museum based on the 1993 children’s book of the same name by the author Milan Trenc. The film tells the story of Larry Daley, who has fallen on hard times both in his business and in his family life. Larry takes a job as a night time security guard at the American Museum of Natural History.
Larry soon discovers that this is no ordinary Museum – for once all the visitors have left, the doors are locked and night time falls the exhibits come to life. Dinosaurs and monkeys, cowboys and Indians, characters from ancient Egypt and Rome, cave men and women along with waxworks of former American presidents all come to life and interact with each other. Each person, each group with different things going on in their lives – sometimes good –sometimes bad and more than often chaos abounds. The whole film is full of a certain magic and wonder that brings ancient civilisations and historical characters to life – while interaction with them from the perspective of today leads to new insights and ideas and new ways of living together. By the end of the film the main characters find a certain peace and contentment for their own lives.
I often think that the danger with a curriculum is that it remains just a curriculum –a lifeless museum piece. Any curriculum needs a bit of magic to gradually bring it to life and create those interactions that will make it effective. This is done firstly, perhaps, by those who write the text books and develop the necessary resources. This has already happened for our new curriculum with the Veritas publication of the Grow in Love Series of text books and resources.
But books can also remain just books – exhibits. They have, in turn, to be brought to life in classrooms up and down the diocese – from Athlone to Sligo, Castlerea to Cootehall by the professional competence and faith filled imagination of our teachers and their interaction with their pupils.
However, this is not the whole story – as already noted this particular curriculum holds the very real promise of going further and connecting and extending the religious education and formation of our young people back into the faith communities from which they come. And ultimately connecting it back into homes with the engagement of parents around the fire or at the family table in the handing on of that precious jewel of faith to their own children.
This is the exciting promise and enticing challenge the new curriculum we launch tonight puts before those involved in catholic education at pre-school and primary level.
As a small token of the local faith community’s practical commitment to the successful implementation of the new curriculum our parishes through the diocese have financed copies of the curriculum for each of our primary schools and will be financing the rolling out in the next few months of a training programme for teachers in the new Grow in Love series of text books and resources.
In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge the work of all those who were involved in the design and production of this curriculum over many years and those who have worked on and produced the Grow in Love Series. In our own diocese, I would like to thank Sr Annette Duignan, Teresa Melia and Kathleen O Dowd for all their support and assistance in the area of primary religious education. I would like to thank Ms Siobhan Clark and Ms Mary Healy-O’Brien who have trained to deliver the in-service in the Grow in Love Series for teachers.
I would also like to take this opportunity to affirm and thank all our teachers, school management, priests, deacons and parents for the excellent work they do in the area of education and of religious education in particular.
Let us not forget the importance of what we do as religious educators – as Bishop Doran put it in his recent pastoral letter on education – A Future Full of Hope:
Our Faith in Jesus Christ has concrete implications for our relationships with one another. When we form our children in faith, we are also teaching them to love others as God loves them. This means being good citizens, respecting the lives and the property of others, doing honest day’s work, caring for the sick, working for human rights and social justice. Religious education, properly understood, has an enormous contribution to make to the common good of society. (A Future Full of Hope – 2014)
I am confident that in years to come the Catholic Preschool and Primary Religious Education Curriculum for Ireland which we launch tonight will make an important contribution not only to religious education but also to our young people lives and through them to society as a whole and a common future full of hope. Thank You!