Our School Chaplain
Monsignor. John Hughes is Our Lady and St.Patrick's school chaplain. This very valued role of school chaplain is a diverse an interesting role which covers a broad range of activities. Monsignor. John tells us in his own words his background and about his role as OLSP's school chaplain:
I have been in the priesthood since 1984 - 32 years and much of that time has been spent (very happily) in education of one kind or another. Pastoral ministry in a parish has also been an important element for me, even when, because of other commitments, I have not been able to carry this out full-time. In these circumstances e.g. when in seminary / university in this country, or working in College full-time in Rome, I have always made arrangements to have a connection with a parish community and, as far as possible, to always celebrate Sunday Mass in a parish setting. Parish gives a priest a balanced sense of ministry, particularly when other tasks may take him into purely professional settings.
The Role of School Chaplain
In terms of school-chaplaincy, I would consider that the chaplain is the visible - accessible presence of the ministerial priesthood in school. I'm very conscious that my own visible presence is so limited, simply because of other calls on my time such as Primary School, Care-Homes, care of sick and housebound, administration of the ‘temporal goods’ and the spiritual and pastoral life of a parish community. Administration (desk-work) can take up disproportionate amounts of time. Financial matters, maintenance of property, overseeing various aspects of the day to day running of a parish - and being available to parish and non-parish groups, not to mention diocesan responsibilities….all make demands on time. That’s just a long-winded way of saying ‘sorry’ for not being in school as much as I would like.
That said, I do manage to spend a little time with the Caritas Group and enjoy that very much. I am also invited to celebrate Eucharist for different groups on different occasions - e.g. Mass for P7 pupils and their parents, larger cohorts of the school population - Holy days of obligation, and occasionally Mass for the Staff of the school. I am pleased also to be invited to various school functions - shows, concerts, prize-giving etc.
In spite of my restricted time in school, I do very much feel that the presence and availability of a priest in school is important. For whatever reason, young people may not easily have access to a priest elsewhere, so it is good that they know that a priest is regularly in school and can be contacted through a range of staff to have a chat or talk through problems etc. Any of the Chaplaincy team, RE staff, Pastoral staff would arrange contact when desired.
The Importance of Catholic Education
A very considerable part of my life has been given to Catholic Education and Catholic schooling, sometimes the distinction is blurred.
The role of Catholicism in education cannot be underestimated. Education as we understand it in our own setting and elsewhere (Europe etc) has been very largely shaped by Christianity - Faith and learning; the Gospel + culture (in a broad sense). Many Church documents and indeed, especially over the past number of years, very many books have detailed the specificity of Catholic Education. Basically, we understand a system which is all-pervaded by Christ and the Gospel. The person of Christ is at the centre of all we do and the Gospel imperative of love of God and neighbour must underpin our teaching and learning. These perhaps nebulous sounding concepts are in fact crucial - the nature of Catholic teaching, necessarily understood as a vocation to prophetic ministry and mission again colours everything that we do. Content of curriculum is less important (though there must be aspects where this is affected also) than the ‘how’ of Catholic educating.