6 to the sacrifice of piety and the training of the heart'
THE DISASTER OF RELIGIOUS EXAMS
By MARY CAHILL
can deny; that a similar tragedy Miss Cahill, a teacher for many years, Church in this country is certain. has made a special study of religious
instruction in the schools
THAT, as Pope Leo XIII put it, many of the " teeming masses " in Europe have been lost to the Faith nobody Practically all these poor souls have been Christ-ened, most have been given a Catholic schooling, but faith withers and dies unless it is fed by God's revelation, food which, like all nutriment, must he assimilated individually and according to individual circumstances and needs.
God's revelation. the deposit of Faith, was entrusted by Our Lord to His Church with the order—His last recorded one: " Go and teach." Within His Church He has specially empowered and en graced two bodies on whom, lies the primary obligation of handing on that revelation to the successive generations, to the young; the parents receive that grace and power through Holy Matrimony, the clergy through Holy Orders.
The parents are named first, since on them, in the order of time, is laid the primary obligation; every child has as much need and right to personal training in the early ways of the faith-life as it has to such help in its physical life.
or over 18 centuries the Church used no other means of transmitting the Faith than this sacramental, traditional parent-priest way, "There was no regular system, it was left to the parents" (Fr. Jungemann, S.J.).
But less than a century ago a great change took place and a new figure. the school teacher, was added to the parent-priest transmitters.
The disaster' AT some date I have been unable to discover. but probably about 1870, when schooling for all became compulsory in Britain, a system was introduced here which changed the position completely. Instead of religious instruction being given in the individual school, according to the particular circumstances of the individual parish.
and under the personal direction of the parish priest, all was centralised and a system introduced by which the teachers in all schools had to follow a scheme of work drawn up on the authority of the Bishops and examined .carly by examiners appointed ht them.
So was initiated a s stem which one of the first Diocesan Examiners ever appointed, Canon Wan' ham, of Southwark, after 20 'ears' experience of it described as " the great disaster."
The system was in fact a copy of that originated by the State itself as soon as compulsory schooling came into being, discarded very soon by the State hut still in force as far as religious instruction in our schools is concerned, a system so completely condemned by the education authorities after long trial that now every individual head teacher is not only allowed hut obliged to draw up full schemes according to each school's own needs.
The-new syllaJsuses of work were drawn up for the big many-classed schools so they could not of course have in mind the circumstances of smaller units, either the small schools or the family.
Home and sehool mischief, hut a conscientious TN the course of a long study of to prepare the children for the the whole matter I came across sacraments or to take practicali in a most valuable book by Bishop care of their souls after leaving) Bellord references to a longschool gets far more hindrance defunct clergy review, one rethan help from the time spent at stricted to private circulation religious instruction for all the amongst the clergy and where they time and energies of the teacher were, in consequence. able to disand class are pre-engaged in pre
There I followed a correspondAnd to-day?
11111111111111111.1111111411111111111111i1111111111111111111i111111111111111111111111111111011111111111111111111I111111111111111111111111111t1111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111141111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111101111111111111111101111111 ence which covered intermittently 20 sears. On passing. may I express my wonder at one thing— those were the years when our 'schools got only the tiniest of financial help from the State, when the efforts to build the schools, keep them in being, equip them and pay staff were all the parish priest's own business, yet in these 20 years the references to the terrible financial burden are comparatively few; the whole concern of the clergy was with the content of the religious instruction being imparted in the schools.) These were the clergy who had themselves been brought up under and had seen the age-old traditional ways still in being, when it was still the ease in home and school that the Faith was imparted, as one writer said, " as at a mother's knee or by a spiritual father training souls."
These priests had seen the institution of the new system, watched its effects, and cried out in alarm.
De rot r (I ire others FROM reading the general Church history of the times, from biographies, letters, etc., one keeps coming on evidence of this concern. That wonderful figure Archbishop lillathorne, nearing the end of his active episcopacy. wrote: " They (the Diocesan Examiners) have been allowed to prepare schemes in which they have imitated the Government inspectors, making their examinations too scientific, cramming the children's heads to the sacrifice of piety and the training of the heart." UNDERLYING the whole scheme is the assumption, never of course asserted or perhaps even recognised, that " the disestablishment of the parent and priest," as one priest called it. is complete, that unless this knowledge is imparted by the teacher in the schools it will never he im In the correspondence there are to be found wonderful pictures of the old ways for which these fathers of souls still hankered. Bishop &Hord wrote: " Those devoted mothers brought up their children to be sturdy Catholics trained to careful religious practice; they did not trouble themselves about 'high and abstract religious considerations. they had a great religious work to do and
they just did it."
Another priest gives the picture of what he had seen and known, and had seen disappear: " We had that most admirable religious instruction given by the mothers who knew little or nothing of the Catechism as such hut their minds were Catholic minds well stored with all the necessary subjects of practical religion and, drop by drop, their teaching about God and Iis 'Truth. our Blessed Lady, the Angels and saints. devils. prayer, sin and the sacraments fell into the minds and hearts of the children with most fruitful results; the children grew up with a habit of looking at all things from the point of view of eternity."
Working for e.rant CANON WENHAM told of his experience as an examiner: " 1 did all I could to minimise the A most hardworking, devoted parish priest very unhappy about the lapsing amongst his parish children wrote last year: " The whole trouble is that the teachers will work for the Diocesan Examination instead of for the good of the children's souls."
In that letter the priest exposed this terrible root of the matter that in the schools the teachers, on whom in practice the whole work now falls, are faced with two ends, not one. and, greatest tragedy of all, are faced with divergent, even at times irreconcilable, aims.
Are they to work for the diocesan examination or the good of the children's souls'? There is the priest in 1954 repeating what his predecessor wrote 60 years ago.
In the earliest infant period it is generally possible to reconcile the two ends. hut from the beginning of the junior stages the cleavage becomes wider and deeper.
The compilers of the present schemes for one great diocese admit that the programme of work for the junior school, children under 11, is a heavy one, but they order it. having in mind that tiny proportion of such children. the cream, who may have to go to non-Catholic higher centres at 11.
Two assumptions Alongside this is another absolutely disastrous assumption, one which is a conviction with practically all the clergy and religious teachers. the assumption that this knowledge imparted in early childhood, and memorised in those formulae of the Catechism, will be remembered all their lives.
For over 30 years I have tested that assumption widely and have formulated a conviction of my own—that the great majority of forget both formulae arid content within an almost incredibly short time.
For the biggest number of children. those " slow and simple ones," whom the Pope has begged should be kept in mind. the process is achieved only with the greatest difficulty both by teachers and taught; with the cessation of repetition, all is forgotten save the impressions of the means taken to ensure that temporary memorisation—the scoldings, the punishments. the sickening repetitions of the whole unhappy process.
And the same fruits arc apparent whenever the system is at work. Only last year a girl from Dublin wrote (her letter was in the Press) of her dread of the Catechism lesson. of herself and others " sick with fright."
And, greatest shock of all, to read a paper by a life-long African Catholic, now a teacher and choir master in the mission school where he was taught. telling that he was the only one of his own class who persevered in the Faith, admitting too that the boys in that school to-day arc longing for the day when they have done with the school and God and the cane. In his beautifully written paper he does most humbly and gently suggest that perhaps the methods in use are at fault. wrote: " They (the Diocesan Examiners) have been allowed to prepare schemes in which they