Mass of Thanksgiving for 100 years of Catholic State Schools in Scotland.

The Mass was celebrated by Bishop Brian and he says, I invited our four Catholic Primary Schools – St Columba’s, Caol; St Mun’s, Dunoon; St Andrew’s, Rothesay and St Columba’s, Oban – to join me in the Cathedral for a special Mass of Thanksgiving. The Cathedral was full and it was a lovely celebration. We were also joined by chaplains, politicians and Council Officials as we celebrated 100 years of State-Church partnership in Catholic Schools throughout our diocese.

Of course, Catholic Education is not 100 years old! It actually arrived in our diocese almost 1,500 years ago with the coming of the Irish monks. St Columba’s Monastery on Iona is particularly well know, not only for its piety, but also for its learning. In fact, one of Europe’s greatest medieval masterpieces – the Book of Kells – was composed on Iona. That it is a Book of the Gospels is no accident – in our Catholic tradition an authentic faith-based education is never restricted to only religious knowledge (central as this is) but rather involves a child’s intellectual and cultural development – indeed the development of the whole person.

The 16th century Reformation destroyed much of the Scottish Catholic way of life. However, as the Church was slowly rebuilding constant emphasis was put on education, even during the Penal times. Remarkably, up until a century ago Catholics paid their taxes for the upkeep of state schools and then, over and above, they also voluntarily donated extra money for independent Catholic schools.  This put a lot of pressure on already poor people. The fact that they persevered proves how highly they valued a Catholic education.

Fortunately, the Education Act of 1918 meant that the State would now financially support Catholic Schools. This partnership has worked well and ensures that our youth are educated within an environment which is shaped by the Gospel values. Indeed, the fact that many non-Catholics opt to join our schools demonstrates their success.

During Monday’s Mass I asked the children to gaze at the Icon of Jesus Our Teacher. Catholic Schools are important not because they teach pupils facts about Jesus but rather they lead them to Jesus. During Holy Week Jesus teaches us that His love is perfect. He also teaches (and helps) us to love God and others perfectly in return. Catholic schools are good for Scotland not just because they offer an excellent academic education (as many other schools do too), but precisely because they also encourage young people to love like God.

Catholic education is a lifelong process of human growth and development. It is more than schooling. It begins in the home, continues in the school and matures through involvement with the Christian community in the parish.These three dimensions: home, school, and parish must work together for Catholic education to truly attain its goal of forming mature human persons in the image and likeness of Christ. (St.Pope John-Paul II)