Valuing Catholic Schools In A New Way

I’ve been visiting Catholic primary schools in different parts of Britain for a very pleasant task – giving out prizes to children who won them in the 2011 Schools Religious Education Project.

This Project was launched by the Association of Catholic Women some ten years ago, and for the past few years it’s been sponsored by the Catholic Truth Society. The CTS is the leading publisher of Catholic booklets and pamphlets in Britain; it has been tasked with producing the new Roman Missal; it runs a central London bookshop; and it distributes a range of books for people of all ages.

The Schools RE project involves children studying aspects of the Catholic Faith and writing essays. This year, the subject to be studied was the Rosary. Open to children aged 7-11, the Project invited them to learn about the Rosary and its prayers, and to choose a particular Mystery and write about it. They could choose from two of the Joyful Mysteries or two of the Luminous Mysteries. Top winners in each year-group won cash prizes for their schools, and book prizes for themselves. Some 200 children won runner-up prizes – copies of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – and other children gained Certificates of Merit. Every child taking part in the project received a commemorative holy picture.

There were a large number of essays of a very high standard, beautifully written and illustrated, showing real interest, knowledge and enthusiasm. In some schools, we could have awarded a dozen Compendium prizes easily.

It was noticeable that in schools where poor work was produced, it was not just the content of the essays, but also poor writing, grammar and spelling.

I have to say that over the past few years of involvement in this Project – during which time it has grown so that we now have literally hundreds of essays pouring in to our Secretary’s small home-office – I have come to value the work of Catholic schools in a new way. It has become almost standard to lament the poor teaching of Catholic doctrine – but it has to be said that there are many schools where this is simply not the case, and children are certainly being taught the Faith, along with prayers and an understanding of what it means to belong to the Church.

Visiting a school to give out the prizes usually involves taking part in a Morning Assembly. The children sit in neat rows, cross-legged on the floor. Then, led by the Head Teacher, prayers begin with all of them crossing themselves: “In the name of the Father…” It is very sweet to see this and to hear the great chorus of young voices as they pray the Our Father and the Hail Mary.

Hymns, alas, are sometimes less successful. Some schools are still making the children warble their way through rather feeble 1970s ditties. But the trend generally in Catholic schools is one of confidence in asserting a Catholic identity: you see crucifixes, statues of Our Lady, and children’s artwork on Catholic themes. Assembly will usually involve attention focused on a statue of Our Lady or a standing crucifix, a lit candle, and an open Bible. The children behave respectfully, with bowed heads, clasped hands, and closed eyes during prayers.

I mention all this because I think it is important to understand that not everything that goes on in Catholic schools and Catholic parishes is noticed and celebrated adequately.
So, for the record, here are the young winners of the 2011 schools Religious Education Project:

Years 3-4 (ie ages 7-9)
I. Jointly: Taylor Delvaille-Sills, St Thomas More primary school, Bexleyheath, Kent and
Antonio Clegg, Our Lady of Victories primary school, Putney, South London
2. Jointly: Charlie Larkman and Grace Heery, St Joseph’s primary school, Port Talbot , Wales
3. Jointly: Alex O’Connell, St Richard’s primary school, Longsight, Manchester, and
Abigail Adamiec, St Joseph’s primary school, Inverness, Ssotland

Years 5-6 (ages 9-11)
1. Joshua Best, St Edmund’s prep school, Old Hall Green, Ware, Hertfordshire
2. Jasmin Werner, Our Lady of Victories primary school, Putney
3. Jointly: Alice Lowden, St Anne’s primary school, Buxton, Derbyshire and
Tashlyn Pereira, St Joseph’s primary school, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey.