THROUGH your newspaper I have followed the progress of Catholic secondary school reorganisation in York because here in Plymouth we appear to have a similar situation.
Just as in York, a religious order running a direct grant school involved in reorganisation is attempting to secure the headship and control of the proposed new school for themselves by threats of withdrawal in 1983 if they do not get their way.
We are all aware of the magnificent contribution the teaching orders have made to Catholic education, and it is easy to understand why some orders of nuns and brothers consider that they have a special right to the leading posts in Catholic schools. However, alongside them many Catholic men and women teachers have been just as dedicated, choosing to work in Catholic schools — sometimes to the detriment of their careers.
Thus, to the average Catholic it is not easy to understand why those to whom we look for leadership in the affairs of our Church, on occasions not only allow such orders to exceed the bounds of justice when pressing their claims but indeed actively support and encourage them.
Comprehensive reorganisation has been with us for some years, and well known, and just procedures have been established to guard the rights of all concerned in reorganised schools whether they be aided or maintained.
Why is it that some Catholics appear to believe that these procedures do not apply to Catholic reorganisations and prefer to proceed upon autocratic lines more suitable to medieval times?
The procedures approved for the appointment of the head of the new school in York have no place in the present-day Church. They are an insult to all Catholic teachers everywhere, a total discouragement to a Catholic teacher from seeking a career in Catholic schools, and a failure of Catholic leadership.
It is astonishing to see that the governors of the Bar Convent propose this scheme and that it is supported by the Leeds and Middlesbrough Diocesan Schools Commission. Is it not obvious to them how these procedures will be seen by others — and not just those outside the Church?
Or perhaps they do not care because they are determined to pursue the notion that really only religions can be trusted to educate our children. What price Vatican H and the greater involvement of the laity?
There are presumably two other Catholic secondary head teachers in York who, along with all other eligible Catholic lay teahcers, know now, well in advance of 1981, that they have no real hope of the headship of the new school.
Only the most fertile imagination could image a series of circumstances which would make it possible for a lay person to be appointed: just imagine the troops of nuns, monks and clergy who would have to be found wanting if this were to happen!
It is unfortunate that Mrs Gargan --quoted in your report of October 27 — missed the point. It is a matter of justice, and Catholics must speak out against injustice.
The nuns of the IBVM probably have no need to fear that their 300 years of service to the Catholics of York will be forgotten. However, they do have to fear that by seeking privilege through threats they will lose standing.
Some teaching orders of nuns have recognised that their dominance of their schools in the old sense no longer is what is required, and have opened even the highest places in their schools to the laity. Who is to say that in this way they have not enriched and invigorated their whole mission?
Catholics everywhere will look to the leaders of the Church in York together with their Diocesan Schools Commissions to choose the path of justice rather than to follow a route of which we would be ashamed.
L. J. Fleming Plymouth.
It will be a great tragedy for the Sisters of' the IBVM if they are forced by circumstances to leave York, and scarcely less deeply felt by the institute's hundreds of "old girls" who keep in touch.
he Bar Convent is the Mothei House of the English Province, founded, with its school, in 1686.1t is the home to which many of the sisters retire to end their days after a lifetime of teaching — among them my own beloved headmistress (nearly 90 and with as keen a mind now as 55 years ago!) and two others of my teachers. It would be most cruel to uproot them.
The foundress of the IBVM, Mary Ward. was born near Ripon in 1585 and died not far from the ancient walls of York. Too little is known about her.
She was a most outstanding Englishwoman, one of the old families who never lost the Faith. She was, as the title of a CTS booklet describes her, "a woman for all seasons"; she was also a woman born before her time.
The two aims to which Mary Ward devoted her entire life were to provide an academic education for girls comparable to that received by boys (at a time when girls were taught nothing but the domestic skills) and to establish for this purpose communities of sisters. bound by a rule and, vows but unenclosed (something unthinkable in the 17th century!) She travelled over half Europe, suffering terrible hardships, to set up communities and get recognition from Rome. She died with her life's work in ruins but with a great seed set for her daughters to bring to fruition.
Mary Ward's daughters at the Bar Convent will never be daunted but will be very grateful for prayers that justice may be done and that they will not have to leave their beloved York.
Busconbe, Bournemouth, Dorset.
It would appear that the IBVM are asking the Department of Education and Science to approve plans which allows them to have: guaranteed headship of the new reorganised school: permanent positions for all their teaching sisters; substantial power on the governing body, and the senior part of the new school to be in their convent site. in exchange, the IBVM will pay £550,000 (85 per cent of which will be refunded).
One can only sadly reflect on how this contrasts with the attitude of their founder, Mary Ward, and the founders of many of our Catholic schools all over the country. With enormous faith and very little money they were determined to provide the pastoral and educational needs of the community that they served.
This activity not only built schools; it helped to build up the Catholic community around a common need. How true this could be again in our time!
In my opinion the particular Christian witness of religious is vital to the concept of a Catholic school. The work of the IBVM in York is valued by the Catholic community here and they wish it to continue. But we are a community and the commitment of priest, parent and lay teacher is just as important.
The re-organisation proposals should therefore create a formal structure which recognises this partnership of interest and commitment in the new school. There are many questions which need to be resolved in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. One of the most serious questions is whether the school should be split between two sites.
I can understand the feelings of the IBVM and other religious about their future. In common with many people today (particularly young school leavers and unemployed. qualified teachers) they face anxieties about job security and their future role.
However, I feel it to be a fundamental mistake and a negative Christian witness to try to solve their problems by the exercise of their considerable legal and financial power in the way proposed.
They should, in my opinion. do as their founders did and make an act of faith in the local Catholic community and work together in partnership to meet the challenges of the future.
P. J. Kiely
Deputy head Teacher St George's Secondary School, York.