I have written before about my pride in the Catholic education being delivered to my daughters at their school in Hamilton, and the good things it brings.
This week has been one where many facets of the Catholic principles espoused by the staff and pupils of John Ogilvie High School have been made clear for all to see.
First of all, let us start on Sunday. I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at the Clyde Auditorium for the second annual presentation of the Pope Benedict XVI Caritas Awards.
As the website of the Scottish Catholic Education Service explains:-
The CARITAS AWARD has been established by the Bishops of Scotland as one way of keeping alive the legacy of Pope Benedict’s historic visit to our country in 2010.
It takes 3 elements – Witness, Learning & Reflection – and provides a structure through which to experience, record and share the impact of these on their faith journey.
The award takes a snap-shot of a young person’s faith witness in one year but is built on the learning and reflection that (s)he has experienced over the course of time within school. It is hoped that the award will encourage young people to recognise that they are part of a community of living faith and to consider how they can share their gifts and talents with the wider Church in the future.
Last Sunday saw 913 award winners being recognised for their participation in and completion of the award programme. The Clyde Auditorium was full of parents, teachers, carers, friends and supporters of the award winners.
We were treated to a gorgeous sunny day, and then to heartfelt words from Archbishop Tartaglia.
Jasmine McFadyen, a pupil from St Paul’s in Glasgow accompanied pictures and words on screen inspired by the Year of Faith with her own composition which she sang and played on her guitar, to an enormous ovation.
We had the North Lanarkshire Primary School Choir performing three songs, and ending with “Bring Me Sunshine”. The performance of the Primary 5, 6 and 7 pupils was inspiring, showing skill and confidence far beyond their years, and ably led by conductor Val Moyes.
Michael McGrath tendered the Vote of Thanks and Bishop Toal offered the closing prayer.
But the main part of the day was the receipt of the awards and the recognition for the award winners as they crossed the stage to be presented with their medals by various dignitaries, including Archbishop Tartaglia, Bishop Toal, Sir Tom Farmer and Lorna Hood, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. One of the biggest cheers was for Bishop Emeritus Joseph Devine, newly retired after many years of sterling service to the Church in Motherwell Diocese and throughout Scotland, and who received one of the warmest ovations of the day.
Some of the award winners told stories of what they had done to achieve the award in video clips on the big screen. We heard of people becoming actively involved in Parish activities, in going out into the community to help others, in providing service to many as part of their Caritas programme. The stories on screen were told with humour, and humility and are part of the pathway to what Pope Benedict declared in his visit to Britain in 2010 as the making of “21st Century Saints”.
In my own Parish and at my daughters’ High School, pupils had been involved in helping in school and in their parishes – for example, helping with Children’s Liturgies and preparation for receipt of the Sacraments.
It was clear that the programme had lead these young people from all over Scotland to make a clear and forceful commitment to doing things for others, and that through the Caritas programme, they had been encouraged to see it through to the end. However, for many, the end of the programme will simply be a beginning for a continued life of service of others.
The atmosphere in the hall was remarkable – there was a great feeling of community amongst all who were gathered there, and the volume of applause for recipients of the awards stayed as loud for the last as for the first – even though the clapping was taking a toll on some hands!
I was immensely proud of all of the pupils from John Ogilvie High School who received the award, but most of all of my eldest daughter.
The ceremony was capped by the reading of a letter which was sent on behalf of Pope Francis by Cardinal Bertone, Secretary of State:
His Holiness Pope Francis was pleased to be informed of the Benedict XVI Caritas Award ceremony taking place on Sunday 2 June 2013 at the Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow, and he sends his heartfelt greetings to all who are taking part. He appreciates the generosity shown by these 900 young people from all over Scotland and he encourages them to continue to place their lives and their talents at the service of their fellow men and women, especially those most in need.
As Pope Benedict taught, justice requires us to ensure that those around us receive what is rightly theirs, but charity transcends justice and completes it by prompting us to give what is ours and to forgive any wrongs we may have suffered (cf. Caritas in Veritate), in his way mirroring the gratuitous love shown to us by our Creator.
Commending all the award winners and their families to the intercession of Saint Andrew and Saint Margaret of Scotland, His Holiness cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing.
From the Clyde Auditorium on Sunday we moved to the school hall on Monday for the Junior Awards ceremony.
Here again a packed room saw many pupils honoured for their endeavour, merit and service to the community. The pupils who were recipients of the various accolades, from first year to third year, were warmly applauded by the “mums, dads, grannies and grannies’ dugs” who were there. My youngest was chuffed to be an award winner, and her mum and dad even more so!
The Head Boy and Head Girl, Matthew and Anna, compered the presentation brilliantly and professionally, and this was made even more admirable by following upon their quick sample from “The Little Shop of Horrors” which is the school musical for the summer. (Tickets still available!)
As always with the school, the ceremony was run like clockwork, with excellent musical interludes from the Junior Band and fine solo performances too.
This all came on the back of the Head Teacher’s powerful talk at the start, where he acknowledged the great spirit of community in the school, stemming from the children’s homes, and fostered by parents and carers in conjunction with the work done by the school itself. This had manifested itself in the huge engagement by parents with the visit to the school of the Inspectors in March, and the extraordinarily high rates of parental participation in the Inspectors’ surveys and meetings, all of which helped the school achieve excellent results in the Inspectors’ Report.
Whilst there is an emphasis, and rightly so, on academic merit, the school gives great weight too to participation in events and activities, whether sporting, choral and musical, or community.
Then, on Tuesday night, we were back at the school for the Valedictory Mass for sixth year pupils. Father Lamb said a fine Mass, and preached on the reading of the letter of St Paul to Timothy, where my patron saint wrote:-
I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come for me now is the crown of uprightness which the Lord, the upright judge, will give to me on that Day.
Father Lamb told the assembled Sixth Year pupils that, in accordance with the motto of the school, “Faithful to the End”, and the words of St Paul, we were marking the pupils having reached the end of their school lives, but now embarking on life outside, and looking to take the lessons learned at school, and applying them for the benefit of others as they go out into the world.
There was a large congregation in the school to take part in the Mass and to support the leavers.
After Mass, the pupils were presented with their Diplomas and sundry awards for activities throughout their school lives, and then the passage of the years was marked with photos covering the six years, put to music, including tracks by Willie Nelson and Billy Connolly.
The palpable sense of community amongst the pupils and shared throughout their teachers, parents and carers made itself felt in the positive feelings generated throughout the evening, and the pride shown in all of the children, now young adults of course, for all of their achievements so far. The Head Teacher too praised the sixth years for the efforts they had made when the Inspectors had been in, having entrusted the Inspectors’ school tour to the Senior pupils, rather than to staff. As he said, the Inspectors saw this as being a gamble, but anyone who knew the quality of the pupils knew that this was not a gamble at all.
As is the case every year, the school will miss them, but that is the nature of education. The leavers now spread out across the world – heading to further education at University of college, or to work, or to “gap years”. The leavers left behind their message – “Be a 2 Marshmallow Student”!
I am sure that there are non-denominational schools too with inspiring teachers, with committed and determined senior pupils, and with significant achievements.
Equally school children can do good even outwith the Caritas Award Scheme!
But there is undoubtedly a feeling, which was present in the Auditorium on Sunday, and in the school on Monday and Tuesday, of Catholic community, framed within the teachings of Our Lord.
The Church in Scotland has not had, at least according to the press, a great year, what with Cardinal O’Brien’s departure and associated issues. For Church-goers, failings by people at the top of the hierarchy, whilst not pleasant to contemplate, do not detract from the Church’s message. After all, the teachings we follow are not those of Cardinal X or Bishop Y, but of Christ. Humans are fallible.
What the last few days have shown is that there are very many young and committed Catholics who are proud of their faith and are using it as a basis for their lives going forward.
Having seen the group of leavers who have moved through the last six years together makes it clear how strongly the ethos of the school acts as a bond and shows the positive side of Catholic education. It will inspire many of them as they go out into the world.
People bemoan the state of the Church. Some people attack the Church as irrelevant, or as not having moved with the times.
Politicians feel that they can talk about everything they want, but that the Church should keep quiet about social issues.
At least amongst my local Parish and my daughters’ school communities, there is active participation in Church activity – our chapel is full every Sunday morning, and there are many young people there.
At a time when it is seen to be “square” to be involved with religion, the packed Clyde Auditorium and the full school halls show that the “easy” analysis is wrong and there are many of our young people whose lives, as they move to adulthood, are inspired by their upbringing and education to do the best they can for others.
And long may that continue!
Posted by Paul McConville