My daughter's primary school is brilliant at upholding a Catholic ethos.
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Our eldest daughter started at our parish's Catholic primary school — let us call it "St Gemma Galgani's" — in September. I can honestly say that, Catholicity-wise (and indeed, in other ways too), I've been hugely impressed.
Prayer is a significant, but wholly ordinary, part of the school day, right from the register: "Good morning, Bernard, and God bless you"; "Good morning, Mrs X, and God bless you". In fact, early into her time there, I asked our daughter if they prayed much. Not much at all, she told me — just in the mornings, at Mass, before lunch, and at home time.
Mass is a regular occurrence, either at the school itself (outside in the Marian prayer garden, if weather permits), or in the parish church. The latter option, incidentally, poses significant logistical issues in getting over 200 kids across town in a safe and timely fashion. But they do it extremely often. (The Year 6 pupils each hold hands with one of the little ones to walk over: a charming witness to the town community in itself). I've heard more sung Latin at one of these school Masses than I dare say some parishes have heard in a good forty years.
Most impressive about St Gemma Galgani's, though, is the catechesis that the children receive. Last term, for example, our daughter came home to tell me that they'd been asked to draw a picture of God and his children. "And what did you draw?", I asked. "I drew Jesus, and some children," came the reply.
Most impressive about St Gemma Galgani's, though, is the catechesis that the children receive.
Even more strikingly, at bedtime prayers yesterday came "... and we pray that God's thorns in his head stop hurting him". No soft-peddling of the Easter story to those four and five-year-olds, evidently. And a pithy account of the christological communicatio idiomatum to make even St Melito of Sardis himself proud, to boot.
Obviously, the teaching staff — and in this case, I think the headteacher especially — play a critical role here, but they are by no means the only ones. Our daughter — a girl not wholly devoid of brook-no-opposition-determination, it must be said — has taken Lent this year with remarkable fortitude. (One not, ahem, wholly characteristic of all family members.)
Taking pity on her stoic refusals of chocolate-y desserts in favour of fruit, the kitchen staff have taken — as if they didn't have enough to already — to baking her special biscuits on such occasions.
Maybe we're lucky. Perhaps we have simply hit the Catholic identity jackpot. But I suspect that the phenomenon extends much further than our little, unglamorous corner of north Oxfordshire. So, on this last day of term, do spare a bedtime prayer for our Catholic schools.
Stephen Bullivant. "Don't dismiss Catholic schools out of hand — I've seen them pass on the faith." Catholic Herald (April 7, 2017).
Reprinted with permission of the Catholic Herald. The Catholic Herald is a London-based magazine, established as a newspaper in 1888 and published in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.
Dr. Stephen Bullivant is Senior Lecturer in Theology and Ethics at St Mary's University, England. A former atheist, he studied philosophy and theology at Oxford University, and converted to Catholicism while completing his doctorate on Vatican II and the salvation of unbelievers. In 2010, he was the first non-American to receive the "LaCugna Award for New Scholars" from the Catholic Theological Society of America. Stephen writes and speaks extensively on the theology and sociology of atheism, and the new evangelization. He recent books include: The Trinity: How Not to Be a Heretic, Faith and Unbelief, and The Salvation of Atheists and Catholic Dogmatic Theology. He has co-authored The Oxford Handbook of Atheism and edited Theology and Power: International Perspectives.Copyright © 2017 Catholic Herald
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