27/09/05 Homily for Opening of New School Year

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Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, September 27th 2005.

This is a great time to be a teacher.  I am sure that for many of you who have education and teaching somehow in your genetic makeup you will tell me that teaching was always a great job.  I still feel that there is something special in the constellation of education in Ireland just now which makes teaching both more challenging and more satisfying.  My hope is that we are looking forward to a period of real renewal in education which will bring enormous benefit to the future generations in Ireland.

Teaching is a profession which brings a unique reward, that of seeing a young person grow to maturity, day by day, and almost unbeknown to us, fully become the person that God wanted him or her to be and flourish in human capacity and talents.

Most of us can remember the teachers who most affected our lives, who introduced us into new worlds whether of literature or of mathematics, of music or of an interest in community or even politics, those who talked to us about the mystery of God and his love revealed in Jesus Christ.  I am talking about those teachers who transmitted a passion for learning and for healthy curiosity. Our lives would never have been the same had we not encountered these teachers.
It must be a great feeling on your side to watch talent realise itself, to watch a promising young boy or girl make it, even to the point of watching them go way beyond what you yourselves were able to teach them.   It must be a great feeling to watch someone starting out with disadvantage or with family or social problems, to actually respond to the challenge and make it in life beyond anything we might have hoped for.

I suppose it is moments of success such as these which make the difficulties of teaching more acceptable and which renew in each of you that real commitment to education which brought you into this profession in the first place.  I am sure that those who have moved on – temporarily or for longer periods – to other things such as administration, when you hear teachers talk of their work, get that craving to be back in the classroom once more, where the real satisfactions of education are to be found.

The image of today’s Gospel message of the mustard seed which grows into an enormous shrub to which the birds of the air come to find shelter, is also a mirror of how we can never measure our success just by the first signs.   The effort we put into education of young people can grow in a way that goes way beyond any expectations that we have.  And indeed, at times this can happen, as we read in the other parable of the seed, as the sower sleeps.  It is the Lord who builds on our actions without us even noticing it.

The first reading on its part calls us to realise that it is only within the unity of the one body and the unity of the different gifts which God has generously given to us that we can achieve the building up of the body of Christ.   Education is a task for many who put the child at the centre of our care and work with others in the child’s best interests in a spirit of “selflessness, gentleness and patience” and that atmosphere of peace which binds us together.

More and more the catholic school has to elicit renewed support and cooperation between school, parents and parish community.  Your service as teachers, as members of Boards of management and the service of the school are to ensure that the young person is seen in a unified fashion, taking into consideration the different worlds that he or she belongs to and within which the child seeks to build up a healthy sense identity, value and self esteem.  Nowhere is this cooperation more important than in the area of religious education where the child needs to develop his or her bond between faith and real life.

I hope that we can make progress in the coming years to ensure that this cooperation works in the most effective way throughout the Archdiocese of Dublin and thus make your work as teachers more effective in the lives of the young people.   I am happy that we have with us the new head of the Diocesan Education Secretariat, Anne McDonagh, a teacher of great experience and someone with a true passion for “the school” as an essential part of life and community.

It is great to be a teacher today, but it is not always easy.  Teachers have contributed in an extraordinary manner to creating what is called the human capital of our society and booming economy.  It is important that teachers and educationalists in the broad sense see that their contribution in this area is recognised. They have the right now to see that an adequate proportion of the wealth generated by that economic growth be pumped back into schools and that they as individuals and as a profession receive appropriate remuneration and status in society.

The question of the social status of teaching as a profession is one of the most determinant factors in the effective delivery of quality education.  Any undermining of that status – which is linked also with remuneration – has seriously negative effects on the effectiveness of any education system. Teachers need the support of society

In many ways it would be great if one could begin again from the drawing board and restructure the entire education system from scratch allowing the contemporary challenge and the priorities of the day to shape change for the future.

That is not going to be the case and for various reasons.  There are indeed many things that work and work very well within our system and it is important that they should be allowed to flourish.   Some of these qualitative advantages of the Irish educational system might even be undermined if restructuring were planned solely within the framework of today’s culture which is often dominated by narrow economic factors.

Our economic success offers us a chance to be creative and innovative, especially in reaching out to those who suffer educational disadvantage. The increasing pluralism in Irish society, together with the special needs of people belonging to different ethnic and religious background will mean that a healthy pluralism in the delivery of educational services can be beneficial to all.

Such pluralism will enable the catholic school also better to maintain its proper identity. That way, the catholic school can more adequately respond to the requests of parents who want their children to benefit from the distinctive character of catholic education, while maintaining that spirit of openness and welcome which has characterised the catholic school, fully respectful of those who come from different backgrounds.

We pray together this evening for our work, for our children, for the development of an enlightened, modern educational system which will produce men and women who will be rich in human wealth, and be those who build a future society, like that mustard seed, where all can come and feel welcome.