This annual ritual celebrates the beginning of the school year and recognises the important role that Catholic schools play in the nurturing of children and their faith.
I never fail to be impressed by the many and varied ways that schools express their Catholic ethos and bring the gospel values to life.
Only last week my old school, Our Lady of Grace, posted on Facebook images of beautiful crosses representing hope, joy and the resurrection which will be placed in new classrooms.
I was privileged to be a guest recently at the opening of the new multipurpose gym at Cabra Dominican College where some of the students prepared and read prayers of thanksgiving and Sr Bernadette Kiley OP clearly enunciated the link to the college’s Dominican heritage. A Celtic cross will take pride of place in the gym.
There is no shortage of social justice initiatives in our schools. Aside from specific projects and immersion trips, they support in varying degrees Catholic Charities through the Me4u fundraising campaign, Vinnies, Catholic Mission and Caritas Australia, particularly Project Compassion during Lent.
The document Being Church Together, developed by Catholic Education SA and the Adelaide Archdiocese, acknowledges that in today’s context, it is often the Catholic school where children, young people and families “deeply experience” the Church’s mission.
Whereas the parish school used to be an extension of a family’s practice of their Catholic faith, now there are many who are not engaged with parish or Church life outside the school setting.
“The traditional face of the Church, the parish worshipping community, represents a distant reality for many people today, for whom it seems to offer little for people living in a complex, rapidly changing world,” the document says.
“While many are drawn to Catholic schools because these schools maintain the spirit, values and sense of community found in the gospels, many families refrain from a deeper connection with the Church traditionally expressed in the parish worshipping community.”
If we are to fulfill Pope Francis’ vision of a ‘healthy, vibrant, renewing parish’ and a ‘Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters’ (Evangelii Gaudium) we need to find new ways of connecting with school communities. Initiatives already implemented in some places include family Masses with strong school participation and family friendly music, parish and school combined picnics and twilight carol evenings, priests and pastoral associates attending school assemblies and working in classes with teachers, parishioners being invited to school Masses and open days, and shared morning teas for parish and school staff.
Of course there are many Catholic children attending government schools, particularly in rural areas, and in some cases they are more engaged with the Church than those attending Catholic schools. For these families, the parish or migrant worship community is instrumental in facilitating the sacraments and participation in the Eucharist.
It is tempting to be disparaging of Catholic school families not making the effort to bring their children to Mass on the weekend but we should be wary of thinking that this means they are lacking in faith. And it is certainly no excuse for not doing all we can to be ‘a Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters’.
Being Church Together can be found at www.adelaide.catholic.org.au/our-people/renewing-parishes/parish-school-initiatives
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