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The following is an address delivered by Fr Timothy Bartlett (Episcopal Vicar for Education in the Diocese of Down and Connor) in St Mary’s University College, Belfast on January 26th at the launch of Catholic Schools Week 2015. In his address, Fr Bartlett recognises the vital contribution of St Mary’s University College over the years to the formation of newly qualified teachers and expresses support and solidarity for Professor Peter Finn and the students and staff of St Mary’s as they challenge the “highly ideological, unnecessary and retrograde attempt by the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland to remove a vital and highly valued Catholic institution that provides an enormous service to Catholic education throughout the North and to the wider community”. Fr Bartlett also emphasises the great heritage of Catholic Education in Ireland and the ongoing work of Catholic schools throughout the Diocese of Down and Connor.


CATHOLIC SCHOOLS WEEK EVENT

St Mary’s University College, Belfast

Fr Timothy Bartlett

(Episcopal Vicar for Education in Down and Connor Diocese)


Good afternoon everyone, and a warm welcome to our celebration of Catholic Schools Week here in the Diocese of Down and Connor. A very special word of welcome to Bishop Farquhar, Malachy McCrudden of CCMS, Prof. Finn and to all you the principals, members of Boards of Governors, Trustees and most of all the teachers, staff and pupils of our family of Catholic Schools across the Diocese.


I would just like to say from the outset how much we appreciate the opportunity to celebrate Catholic Schools Week here in St Mary’s University College, Belfast. This historic, high performing and highly valued College is integral to the provision of a pluralist, diverse system of education here in the North. It is a vital and cherished part of the family of Catholic Schools and Colleges across this island which, consistent with genuine pluralism, contribute to the common good with the particular perspective, ethos and values of the Catholic educational tradition.


The autonomy and distinctly religious character of St Mary’s is not incidental to its purpose or the justification for its continued existence. It exists in direct response to the right of parents, almost half of all parents of school-going children in the North, who chose Catholic education for their children. These parents have a right to have highly competent and professional teachers who have been trained in an educational environment that models that of the Catholic schools in which they will teach. In this important respect a teacher is not like an engineer, or a lawyer, or a mechanic, or an entrepreneur. A teacher lives out his or her vocation as part of a community that forms and educates children in response to the right of parents, who in turn have a right to expect that educational community to reflect their particular religious values. This is the essence of genuine pluralism. The decision by Minister Farry to deliberately put St Mary’s in a position of such financial jeopardy undermines pluralism and choice in favour of a policy of forced integration, which is often a thinly disguised cover for intolerance of Catholicism and Catholic education itself. I therefore welcome the opportunity today to express my support and solidarity for Professor Peter Finn and the students and staff of St Mary’s as they challenge this highly ideological, unnecessary and retrograde attempt by the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland to remove a vital and highly valued Catholic institution that provides an enormous service to Catholic education throughout the North and to the wider community. In undermining St Mary’s, the Alliance Party is undermining all those parents who value their right to choice in education. In attacking St Mary’s, the Minister is attacking all Catholic Schools and those others who benefit from the outstanding teachers and Liberal Arts graduates it provides.


Today's event is an opportunity to reflect on the incredible gift that St Mary’s is and that all our Catholic Schools are to society, to the parents who chose them and, we hope and endeavour to ensure, to the children who attend them.


The theme this year is 'Catholic Schools: Called to Serve'.


Pope Paul VI famously said that the ultimate aim of every Catholic School is to make the 'Civilisation of Love' a reality. Mother Teresa of Calcutta also famously said that if we love, we will serve. And service of others is therefore at the heart of our Catholic ethos. It is at the very heart of what inspired extraordinary Irish women and men like Catherine McAuley and Nano Nagle and Edmund Rice and others to give up all they had and devote their lives to the provision of Catholic Education on this island. That is why it is so appropriate that Pope Francis has linked this theme of 'Called To Serve' to the 'Year for Consecrated Life' that we also celebrate throughout 2015. Our three speakers have been chosen especially because of this link. Sr Mary Reynolds, from Mercy International, Prof. Finn – reflecting on the Dominican tradition of this College – and Dr Aidan Donaldson from the Christian Brothers.


Pope Francis has caught the imagination of the world by showing us in very simple, concrete ways how powerful, transforming and life-giving this message of loving and serving others can be, the hope that it offers to the world of a new unity, a new solidarity in peace. What we are about to hear this afternoon, over the next one and a half hours, is a reflection on how some of our schools and this College also live out this vision as a core part of their Catholic ethos. To that end I want to conclude by offering a special welcome and thank you to the young people who are here this morning from St. Paul’s Primary School, St Mary’s CBGS and this College. Perhaps we can begin however, by singing together a hymn that captures this call to serve so well: ‘The Servant Song’.