150th Anniversary of CUS

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Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin


Saint Teresa’s Church, Clarendon Street, 7th December 2017


Just over 150 years ago, on 29 September 1867, the Marist Fathers opened Catholic University School here in Leeson Street.  The history of CUS goes a little further back in history.  It is linked with the preparations for the establishment of the Catholic University of Ireland, a dream of both Cardinal Paul Cullen, Archbishop of Dublin, and of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, who was to become the first Rector of the University.

They were two very different characters.  Cullen had spent a large part of his life in Rome – I have to say that I have to express a certain conflict of interest having spent over thirty years in Rome myself – and Cullen’s experience of university was that of narrower seminary formation.

Newman was English, a convert from Anglicanism, a distinguished theological and literary Oxford scholar, with a very different understanding of a university.

Even before the appointment of Cullen as Archbishop of Dublin, his predecessor, Archbishop Daniel Murray, had established a school in Harcourt Street dedicated to Saint Laurence O’Toole to prepare young Catholics to enter university.  The school remained in Harcourt Street until the Marist Fathers arrived, and CUS as we now know it began.

Archbishop Murray was unique among the Irish bishops of the time in that he favoured allowing Catholics to attend the new State National School system and also to attend the Queens Colleges.   His episcopal colleagues considered these as “Godless Colleges” and despite Murray’s determination, the Holy See eventually came down against him and encouraged the foundation of a Catholic University of Ireland along the lines of the Catholic University in Louvain.

You could do a very good “what if” reflection on how education in Ireland would have fared had Murray’s ideas been accepted rather than the idea of a separate Catholic educational system.   However, we cannot rewrite history.

What we can do is to reflect on the identity of Catholic education and what the place of Catholic education in today’s Ireland and in the future should be.

Cardinal Cullen was cautious and clerical.  He would not allow laypersons to become Trustees of the new University and this intensified the diffidence of the British authorises towards it, refusing to recognise its degrees. Murray and Newman, though each in his own way, had a vision of the Catholic being educated in order to be present in an energetic way and in influencing and building a more differentiated society.  Newman was especially interested in the relationship between faith and science, faith and culture.  This approach of dialogue within society, he felt, was vital in the formation of the young scholar who was to become a future leader.

Catholic education is still vital today, but not in the sense of a closed retreat from an active presence in the world and in influencing the culture of the world.  However, the Catholic school is not a place either where the process of guiding the young person to maturation of faith can be considered marginal.

CUS is a school that has maintained a tradition of education of its pupils into a sense of faith and devotion, but in the sense of developing a mature faith capable of living within and influencing society in a positive manner.

Faith cannot be imposed.  Faith requires a process of growth and maturing.  The young person at every appropriate age must be helped, encouraged, and attracted towards what faith means and how the person of faith can witness to his or her conviction within the real world.

This process of accompanying and leading the young person to maturity in faith is a challenging one, especially today.   In my school time, questioning faith would not have made you popular.    The young person of today is different:  asking questions, unafraid to express doubt and scepticism and indeed criticism of the Church.  Accompanying the young person along a path to a mature faith is more demanding and time consuming.  It is not just an intellectual process of sharing information about different religions and the history and sociology of religion.

Faith is not just an individual conviction.  It is something that is witnessed to and experienced within a faith community.  A school is a community and is part of a community.  The Catholic school must be a community in which all these who have the interest of the pupils at heart must play their part.  I know that the CUS tradition places great emphasis on building strong bonds between the school, parents and indeed past pupils.   This is clearly witnessed to in our gathering this evening.

The community supports the school but the school itself must be outward looking and foster a sense of community responsibility.  We often use the word excellence in assessing schools.  Excellence in terms of education is not just about excellence of curriculum or excellence of facilities or excellence in examination results.  These not irrelevant, but the excellence and talents must generate sense of placing the fruits of that excellence at the  service to others.

Catholic education by definition means building in the young person a true Christian philosophy of life, namely one that relativises many of the things we value and which are valued by the culture of the day, in order to live for others as Jesus did.  A lifestyle that becomes self-centered or even narcissistic will never deliver happiness and fulfillment.  Education must teach the young person to reach out and to experience the joy of living for others.

Faith belongs to real life and its fruits must be shown in reality.  A faith-filled life can enhance the ordinary qualities of one’s family and professional and public life.  It can foster a real passion to work for change and progress in society, for building a society that cares.

Developing a sense of responsivity and care for the marginalised begins in school years. I congratulate CUS for the many ways in which the pupils of today take part in projects throughout the year that enables them to see first-hand the harsh realities of life in which people find themselves today.

CUS is a school that is proud of its Marist tradition.   This is not a title or a brand.   It is about the model of faith that Our Lady represents in the history of salvation.  It is fitting that we celebrate this anniversary as we enter into the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Mary was the one who was sensitive to the word of the Lord, even when she had doubts about where it would take her life.   We are told that she pondered that that word throughout all the ups and downs of her life.  She shows us what discernment in faith means. Faith is not about fixed-frame certainty, nor is it an abandonment to drifting or agnosticism.

Faith must make us constantly uneasy about where we stand and where our society stands.  Catholic education must give us lifelong instruments to discern where value is founded in our lives.

As we celebrate 150 years of Catholic University School pupils of the past give thanks to God for the wisdom that they learned as a guide for their lives.   We pray intensely also for the pupils of today as they face set out to discern the values that will enable them to reach maturity in the complex and challenging world of today and tomorrow.  May God’s blessing and protection be with this school for many years to come.