A new national association has been launched – ‘Religious Orders in Education’ – to raise awareness within Catholic educational circles and beyond, of the special contribution made to education in England and Wales by the particular charisms of Religious Order Schools and Colleges. The association, ROE, will bring together congregations which have founded schools in the past and those which are still involved in the governance of educational establishments.
One of the organisers, former Headteacher Sr Brenda Wallace FCJ explained: “Our vision is to see 21st century Catholic education strengthened and enhanced by the distinctive charisms of Religious Orders continuing to animate and enrich the schools and colleges of which they are founders or trustees.”
The association has a broad membership of both Religious Orders that are still involved as trustees as well as Orders that founded schools but no longer have any involvement in education. Sr Brenda added: “These latter congregations have contributed to the rich heritage of Catholic education in the past, which we continue to build upon. This in itself offers great support to those congregations who are still involved.”
Attendees had travelled from around the country to attend the launch. Sr Therese Browne SP, a trustee of St Paul’s girls school in Birmingham said: “The launching of ROE is an important development in our time as it is raising a greater awareness among us as Congregations of the gift of our various charisms to Catholic Education. Conscious of the richness of our tradition in this regard, the Association is giving us a renewed appreciation, confidence and energy to pass on our charism to our school communities who are very eager to embrace it. As a Congregation, our Sisters treasure the significant amount of interaction which we have with our staff and pupils. We have a wonderful Headteacher, Dr Dawn Casserly, who is a past pupil of our school; she is passionate with the staff about nurturing and transmitting our charism with confidence in every aspect of school life and beyond.”
Adding: “It is also important that as an Association we continue to build close links with the CES. This, we hope, will enable our Diocesan Education Services to have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the distinctive contribution our Religious Congregations still make to Catholic Education and to move forward in a spirit of mutual trust to ensure that we “do the very best for our children.” (Genevieve Dupuis, Foundress).
Salesian, Fr Mervyn Williams SDB, who gave the opening address commented: “The Association will seek to ensure that the distinct status and contribution made by religious order schools is fully recognised and not lost in the current significant restructuring of Catholic school provision in many dioceses.”
The Chair of the Catholic Education Service, Bishop Marcus Stock, welcomed the new association, saying the heritage passed on by Religious Orders “should be treasured and appreciated as a continuing source of inspiration for strengthening and enhancing the Catholic ethos of the schools and colleges which owe their foundation to those Religious Orders.”
He added: “Dioceses and Religious Orders must together strive to do all within their power to secure the future of Catholic education.”
Sister Brenda Wallace led Gumley House School FCJ in Middlesex for twenty-four years, was a co-founder of the Association of Maintained Girls’ Schools and received the OBE for services to Education in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list of 2013. She emphasises the long term, strategic and forward looking objectives of the new association: “We want to maintain a healthy option in our Catholic school system by ensuring that Religious Order schools continue to play their part; schools that have been built around the charisms that the Holy Spirit has given via the founders of the Religious Orders to the whole Church. We do not want to work in competition. We do not want to be isolated so that we are not able to contribute to the good of the whole.”
Maureen Mee of the Loreto Trust and a member of ROE’s Executive Committee, welcomed the emphasis by the keynote speaker, Sr Pat Murray IBVM (Executive Secretary of the UISG), on collaboration: “Sr Pat Murray has a wealth of experience in both inter-congregational collaboration and in defining and transmitting charisms. I was struck by her reference to building bridges of collaboration that will take us to somewhere new. The comments of members throughout the day showed that there was a great desire for the support and new life that collaboration will bring. It was also clear that some bridges will take patience to cross - all the diocesan directors were invited but only one turned up. We are conscious that the hard work now begins and we are heartened by the members who have volunteered to take part in the two working groups.”
Lay worker, Hilary Thompson, Schools and Network Coordinator for the Society of the Sacred Heart, praised the contribution of Religious Orders to schools: "The extra dimension that the charism, story and priorities of a religious congregation can give to the Catholic life of a school is such a gift. It can touch the members of a school community profoundly. It can be a new way of seeing God and understanding as well as living mission. Therefore it is essential to be able to articulate the charism, story and priorities in a way that makes them come alive and be relevant to the governors, staff and students. Having an association like ROE to support congregations in identifying and passing on their distinctive charisms is most welcome. We can learn so much from each other and share more widely what we have to offer. There is a particular need at the moment for a variety of reasons. One challenge is recruiting governors and senior staff who are open to discovering this extra layer to the Catholic life of a school and prioritising it."