Young Catholics who attend Catholic schools speak very highly of their school experiences, citing regular opportunities for the celebration of Mass together and the centrality of prayer and liturgy supporting them on their faith journey. However, what echoes most often in the undercurrent of all Catholic schools is that special something that nobody can put their finger on, strong relationships, that feeling of warmth and welcome we are not afraid to proclaim as the presence of the Holy Spirit, at work in and through everything.
Choosing a Catholic school
Since the removal of free Local Authority transport for denominational schools some families have found it very difficult to send their children to a Catholic school. The reasons for this are varied but are mainly due to distance from home and the cost of getting children to school.
Catholic children who live a long distance away from their nearest Catholic school have had to rely on family transport, public transport or school buses which can be expensive. This has left some Catholic families on lower incomes usually from rural communities often making difficult decisions about where to send their children to school. This gets even more difficult when choosing a secondary school.
There are only six Catholic secondary schools across the whole Diocese which includes St Bede’s Inter-Church school in Cambridge and St Mary’s Independent All Through School, in Cambridge and unfortunately this landscape is unlikely to change in the near future. There is an opportunity here for parishes to support such families to give their children a Catholic education and to help financially with transport costs..
One huge advantage of attending a Catholic school is the centrality of Religious Education to the curriculum in Catholic schools. The recent publication of the new RE Directory for Catholic Schools provides a rich source of knowledge and understanding of the Catholic faith, and genuine encounter with other faiths within the current world in which we live. The amount of time dedicated to the study of RE also means extra time spent on developing the skills associated with the subject such as thinking skills, oracy, reading and writing skills, analysis and debate.
Strong Parish Links
Having strong links with the local parishes and deanery is of paramount importance in order for students to understand their part in the common mission and universal, global nature of our church. The sacramental presence of God through reconciliation and the eucharist in our Catholic schools can only happen because of these close links.
Rowena Goodfellow, Lay Chaplain and Foundation Governor at St John Fisher Catholic High School in Peterborough shares one of her recent experiences of strong parish links: “During the week leading up to our Easter para-liturgies, via our daily thought reflections, we focussed on the stories around Holy Week culminating in Christ’s passion and resurrection on the last day of term. This was beautifully told through our student readers, drama tableau, music and supporting images and scripture. The atmosphere was set with our lighting, carrying us through the emotions of the darkness that overcame the world when Jesus died and the golden light of his glorious resurrection.
“Students and staff commented on how well all those involved portrayed this and how connected they felt to those events so long ago, yet present with us through the service. It all came together at the end with spring flowers, candles and the cross with the white cloth draped to symbolise that ‘He is Risen!’.”
Izabelle Winlock Year 11 (drama and soloist), who took part in the Easter liturgy, said: “Performing for the Easter liturgy was a really amazing experience as it allowed me to express my faith through drama and music, both subjects I’m really passionate about. I really enjoyed performing and it helped develop my own skills as a musician and an actor as well as my faith and beliefs.”
Centres of Mission and Formation
Our Catholic schools have Christ at their centre and always aim for excellence in every aspect of their being. This is because their mission demands real human flourishing in order for our society and future society to flourish too. In other words, children and young people in Catholic schools are formed to contribute to the common good of society.
We have always and will always need good, joyful, hopeful, faithful people in our world to face the current challenges and, most importantly, people who will take action. Past pupils often come back to school and talk about how transformative their time at school was, although they may not have realised it at the time, and some come back to teach and work there.
Many families have sent generations to the same Catholic schools. Families report on how their grown-up children have become advocates for change in whatever areas of life they entered into, from politics to aid work to business and medicine. Some even join protest groups or travel to less desirable places in the world to offer help and support. At the heart of this is service to others.
The formation of our children and young people is of prime importance and our Catholic schools are doing just that. Incidentally, it is not only Catholic children and young people who flourish in this way. Catholic schools are inclusive and welcoming of everyone, so one of the strongest and most tangible aspects universally experienced in our Catholic schools is the innate dignity of the human person, regardless of background or religious belief.
So, let us not forget that the mission of our Catholic schools is also the church’s mission. This is a mission deeply rooted in the biblical redemptive concept of human flourishing, demanding respect for the dignity of all people and the safeguarding of basic values and resources needed for the whole of creation to flourish. This is when we see the glory of God and this is why our school motto is: ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full’ (John 10:10).
Pictured above are pupils and staff from St John Fisher Catholic High School in Peterborough with headteacher, Kate Pereira on the right.