being discussed by the National Conference of Priests. Earlier in the year, at the Conference of Catholic Colleges held at Downside, TERENCE SHEEHY read an important paper on:
What a Catholic parent expects from a Catholic school
FIRST of all I would like to make it quite clear that you are the professionals and I am merely the amateur. In this case I am a definition of the teacher. I am "a boy among men and a man among boys." As far as what 1 have to say to you goes, you have heard it all, or nearly all of it, before.
Having said this, may I begin by endeavouring to define some Of my terms of reference. What, for example, is a "Catholic parent"? I am reminded of the child in the school in West Cork, reply ing to the diocesan inspector, on the .question of the difference between childhood and adulthood. And she replied: "Children enjoy their childhood, and adults their
adulterr ". Is a "Catholic 1)arent", for example, one who enjoys his adultery? In my opinion he is a parent who stills holds on to the Credo
(despite all the recent changes). He still believes that it is the Mass that matters, and that it is both a sa rifice and a mystery.
He haaieves in the "Our Father". and in the "Hail Mary", and profoundly in each of their separate and compo nent parts. He believes in the mystery of the Holy and Un
divided Trinity as expressed in the Veni Creator Spiritus. He constantly rejoices in the words of the Magnificat. lie is comforted by the words of the Anima Christi.
He believes that "Christ died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again." He knows that his beliefs must lead him, and his children, to a prayer life in the Catholic home, and in the Catholic school, so that long after that formal schooling, and that home life are over, this prayer life must become a continuing process, if possible an everdeepening process, and a constant growth, like the vine and its branches.
The ultimate object, then, of the educational exercise in the home, and in the school, might be summed up in a very fanciful God's eye view of the world, by seeing amphibian man in the world, but not of the world, making his way across the universe, past the "flaming monstrance of the West", to the "passionless passion" and the "wild tranquillity" of the "Heaven-Haven" of . Gerald Manley Hopkins.
But, alas! I must come down to earth, and I ask myself what kind of religion are we parents, and you teachers, and the Church in general, peddling today to our children?
And the answer is. I fear, that we are all too frequently offering our children cut-price religion, special offers, "tuppence off". Jolly them along to keep them in. Make the Mass a kitchen mean, swing those electric guitars, sing "Our Father IF you are in Heaven".
Let our children "do their own thing". Let's get with it Daddy. Dig the long-haired father with the roll-top sweater and the iron cross on a rope, and the carefully tailored jeans. There is no such thing as sin.
Let the kids smoke "pot" on the Costa Brava. It's harmless enough. Let's not define right or wrong. Our children might think we are old-fashioned and square. Abandon the hearth arid-the home. Don't have them around. It may show up your age at the bridge party.
Mass on Sunday? Confession? You must be joking! Our kids help old ladies across the road. They have a warm inner feeling which makes them glow. "Catholic?" Well, let's say "Christian", in fact, let's not commit them, or their children. They are really dedicated to doing good works.
Marriage? Well it's all OK when it's the problem of other people's children, but when it comes to your own, and they announce a marriage service in a Presbyterian Kirk, or a "trial" marriage, what has gone wrong? And then we the parents, and you the teachers, must examine our consciences.
As a Catholic parent saying what he expects from a Catholic school, I am obliged to return for first principles, to my Catholic Truth Society pamphlet on "The Christian Education of Youth" by Pius XI, the encyclical Divini Mins Maestri published in 1929. and familiar to all of you.
As a Catholic parent I accept the guidelines laid down therein. In 1975 I reassert my right as a Catholic parent, in a pluralist and secular society, to my freedorri to choose and pay for the benefits of independent education for my children, if I so wish. I reject totally the idea of a neutral education for my children. There is, in my opinion, no such thing as a neutral education. This is simply hot on.
A neutral education is the presence of the absence of God. A neutral education misses the meat for the mustard.
A neutral education empties out the baby with the bath water.
Very simply, I believe that there must be a Catholic commitment in education, and I ask to be spared the woolly and transparently dishonest thinking in educational matters of politicians, such as the Anthony Wedgwood Benns of this world, and their comprehensive school solutions for all, It is said in the children's history books, that when St Augustine saw the first fair haired slaves from Britain in the market place in Rome he said. "Non Angli, sed Angell." Education in a Catholic school could remind our children of the Soviet answer to the educational problem which faced them, for exam pie, when they occupied Catholic Poland. Their answer lies in the frozen forest of Katyn. where the educated leaders of the Polish people. professors, generals, doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists. teachers and priests, 4,143 or them lie in massed graves, murdered by NKVD execution squads in the spring of 1940.
Each lies with his hands tied behind his back. His greatcoat pulled over his head, sawdust stuffed in his mouth to stop the screaming. A broken jaw. A bayonet wound. A bullet from a 7.65 mm pistol in the hack of the neck.
The bodies of 2,815 highly trained and educated men were identified before the hot spring weather made the identification of the rest impossible.
Ten thousand other Polish officers, the cream of the Catholic schools and colleges and universities of Poland, are still missing, presumed drowned — drowned deliberately by the Soviets in the White Sea.
Meanwhile, here is my "shopping list" as to at least some of things a Catholic parent expects from a Catholic school:
I. In the matter of moral and religious education he expects the Catholic school to he an extension of the Catholic home. Without a Catholic home a Catholic school is powerless. It would be a mere termtime religion — unless, of course, the Holy Spirit decided otherwise. The Catholic home gives the initial religious formation of the child. If this is not there, the school has nothing to build on, nothing to back up. The values in the home must be shared by the values in the school, and developed over the years to a maturity by the educational experts — you, the teachers, It is then up to the conscience of the individual. And we must always be aware that the child is the very first to spot the phoney in a married person, or in a religious, or in a sermon. They have to see personal example in the home and in the school Lo help them to believe.
2. In the matter of academic education, the Catholic parent expects that priests, brothers and nuns in Catholic schools should be at least as well qualified academically its lay teachers: at least as interested and as dedicated as lay teachers. In fact, priests, brothers and nuns are expected to be even more dedicated and more self-giving than lay teachers. 3. This academic education should be every bit as good, if not superior, to any other form of education on sale in the market. Man, we know is a social animal; he has to live in society and not on his own. Therefore education in a Catholic school must help prepare him for this life, help him make an adequate living and to perform well in making that living.
4. One worry in this day and age, and difficult for a Catholic parent to accept, is the introduction of non-Catholics as staff members of Catholic schools, and the low ratio of priests, brothers and nuns available to teach children.
A shortage of vocations is understandable, but as a Catholic parent I think it is particularly important that such subjects as literature, history and science be taught by Catholic teachers, as the encyclical Divini Wins Magisiri points out that a Catholic spirit should pervade the whole school in the teaching of all subjects and not just in religious instruction classes.
S. With regard to the quality of religious instruction, many parents are distinctly unhappy about this. Personally I am happy about the religious instruction of my own children, but one hears of Many good sisters and brothers who have apparently given up taking religious instruction classes. In this area, nuns who believe in "free discipline", and brothers who believe in treating children as if they are adults, have a lot to answer for.
6. There appears to he a marked reluctance in some Catholic schools for priests, brothers and nuns to take religious instruction, particularly in the sixth form. They tend to pass the buck to junior lay teachers, and the inference is that many of them have less and less guarantee of their own religious beliefs and lack training in methods and .in aims.
In my opinion many religious, particularly nuns, have too suddenly become "emancipated" and are rushing off to attend so many courses that they are in danger of losing their prayer life.
7. With regard to what a Catholic parents expects from a Catholic school in a world of competitive examinations and "getting on" in life, I would pre-suppose that Catholic teachers are inspired by the Holy Spirit to impart as wide a knowledge to the children as the Holy Spirit working in those children can receive.
That this knowledge in due course becomes wisdom — the' right use of knowledge, and the capacity to apply it in ordinary everyday liethe fullest personal advantage.
The ra •r, over-emphasis on examination results should be no part of Catholic education, nor should education he any part of
cramming children for examinations with the aid of a strap, violence.
Educationother form of physical Education must not equate with memorising some subjects for exaMS.
M. it IS important to a Catholic parent that each and every one of his children be treated as an individual in the educational process, and that there is a respect for the free will of the individual in his seeking of the truth. A child should emerge from a Catholic school fully aware that his conscience is his very own.
9. As a Catholic parent I would hope that a Catholic school would give its sixth-formers some knowledge and appreciation of the [-bird World and its human suffering and hunger, in South America, in Africa, in India and the Far East. I would like to think that a Catholic school, through its connections with the religious in the missionary world. would show, for example, that the ciboria of ilack Africa are heaped higher than many in Europe, and remind us that the Evelyn Waugh short story could one day become a reality, when the missionary launch may appear on the Thames, amid the jungle that was once London, and a black priest — perhaps a black St Patrick — step ashore to convert the white natives.
10. As a Catholic parent I would hope from a Catholic school that its sixth-formers would he given an insight into the Eastern Slavonic and Byzantine Rites, and be shown that the Western Church of the Crucified Christ is more than compensated for by the Eastern Church with its joyous emphasis on the Risen Christ.
It would go a long way to help in people understanding r stoanne o d i ngf the the Russiansep erpowers of the world in which our children will have to live.
II. As a Catholic parent I expect a Catholic school not to be tempted to "get with it" in passing fashions in education.
12. As a Catholic parent I can understand that in a Catholic school children are often too inexperienced, naturally, to appreciate fully what they are being taught at the time. Therefore, later, when they have left school, and still later on in life, they are often in a better and fitter mood to appreciate more fully the basics of the Faith if these are presented with sufficient clarity.
In the technological age in which we live we should have all the technical and audio-visual equipment at our disposal for a special kind of place of silence where men could listen and look and learn.
The chapel or abbey would remain the focal point and place of prayer, as in all retreats, but in this kind of retreat we would use, say, a library of cassettes rather than a library of books, and a library of visual aids. Man would learn to be silent and to look and listen.
Priests could answer any major problems on the telephone, and assist in a process of self-study and self re-adjustment. At the end of such an audio-visual spiritual exercise one should be able to return to the rat-race with more conviction, more composure, more serenity and more confidence than before.
13. As a Catholic parent I used to think that a Catholic school should produce leaders, men of power, politicians and tycoons. And it should concentrate on training men to take an active part in influencing the mass media of communications in newspapers, in radio. and on television.
The world needs plenty of journalists with the skill of a Patrick O'Donovan, with the dedication of a Tom Burns of the Tablet. or a Gerard Noel of the Catholic Herald, or men with the debating ability of a Norman St John-Stevas. We could do with a lot more Lord Longfords, and a lot more "Beachcombers" — Johnny Mortons.
"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation," mid Thoreau. And Lincoln observed that he frequently went on his knees when he had no place else to go. And it still obtains. In a world of take-overs, mergers, redundancies, marketing consultants, economists, financial directors, heads of marketing, researchers and planners, whizkids, computer boffins and all the plethora of modern selling techniques. the average sensitive and intelligent product of a Catholic school can be crucified many times
is then that his Catholic school dedatiltcyation should stand to him and
remind him of the figure of the buffeted Christ, of the "clown Christ," who appears and reappears all through our history.