Claims that Catholic schools cannot create a sense of civic virtue run “completely contrary to the Catholic education tradition which is built on a respect for faith and reason” the head of a leading Catholic schools body has said.
Fr Michael Drumm (pictured), the Chairman of the Catholic Schools Partnership, said that contemporary Irish discourse tended to “dismiss religious belief as inherently irrational, divisive, and anti-intellectual”.
In a homily at Knock Shrine, Fr Drumm said that those who claim denominational schools were the indoctrinating tools of religious authorities “show little sense of the long evolution of Catholic schools over many centuries, the rich diversity within the Catholic sector and the principles which underpin such education today”.
He said: “The most important principle of all is the value placed on both faith and reason. It is this principle which helps to explain why Catholic schools are so popular and respected throughout the world.
“In an era often dominated by religious fundamentalism on the one hand and atheistic science on the other, this commitment to a dialogue between faith and reason was rarely more relevant.
“We live in an era when science and religion might completely diverge from each other as if it was impossible for the same person to be a rigorous scientist and a sincere religious believer. Faith and reason can live and thrive in the same person: while one cannot be reduced to the other they both play a dynamic role in forming and educating a mature person.
“There is no contradiction between being a fully educated person and a committed Christian. There are few more important tasks for Christian educators than to revisit and re-imagine the relationship between faith and reason.”
He quoted Pope Benedict who said that the worlds of reason and faith “need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and on-going dialogue, for the good of our civilization”.
Catholic schools and colleges, Fr Drumm said “are called to live out this dialogue every day”.
He said that there had been much ill-informed media speculation about the future of Catholic primary schools.
He pointed out that there are Catholic schools in almost every country in the world except where non-democratic regimes have banned them and that there will be Catholic primary schools in every Catholic community in Ireland “as long as parents and the broader Catholic community support such schools”.
He said: “This autumn there will be an opportunity in some selected areas for parents to register their support for Catholic schools. It is important that those who favour Catholic schools grasp this opportunity.”
Fr Drumm added that Catholic schools are inclusive and have led the way in areas such as special needs and Traveller education.
Catholic schools, he said “are committed to, and often attain, the highest standards in all aspects of school life”.
Fr Drumm said: “In a week when students have just received their Leaving Certificate Examination results and many are awaiting offers of college places through the CAO system, we should remember that schools must serve the development of the whole person and, they must serve all pupils, including those who do not go on to third level.
“The real story of this week is not about the few who got nine A1s but those who achieved their potential according to the gifts that they have been given.”
He added: “Catholic schools are well served by about 20,000 volunteers who serve on boards of management. Where would we be without the generosity of these people who give freely of their time and expertise? The cost to the State of all of these 20,000 board members is zero euro.”