Edmund Rice Schools Today

(from “Le Chéile” by Aodán Ó Duibh)

Aodán is a teacher of P7 pupils at the Christian Brothers Primary School, Armagh
where he is also Religion Coordinator.

One of my many thoughts upon starting out teaching in a Christian Brothers’ school was the knowledge of the importance such schools had in education throughout the island of Ireland and indeed beyond its shores. Once led by a religious congregation founded by a renowned wealthy business man in the early nineteenth century the mantel of responsibility for two hundred Edmund Rice Schools has now been passed onto lay people (The Edmund Rice Schools Trust). As a Religion and ERST coordinator I feel very conscious of the responsibility to continue the vision set out by Blessed Edmund Rice and his followers all those years ago.

So what was Blessed Edmund’s vision? What makes a school in his tradition different to any other Catholic maintained school? These are questions that I have often mulled over as we set out on a new chapter in the history of the schools.

The Edmund Rice Schools Trust Charter (ERST Charter) launched in 2007 answers these questions as it clearly defines what is unique about schools in this broad network. As well as acknowledging past failings ‘Conscious of the hurt and pain caused by these failures, those who now follow in his [Edmund Rice] footsteps have learned from these experiences and seek to live out his founding vision with renewed commitment.’ (ERST Charter : 7). In addition, the Charter celebrates past achievements and looks to the future.                  
The five key elements set out in the Charter are as follows:

•                  Nurturing faith, Christian spirituality and Gospel-based values
•                  Promoting partnership 
•                  Excelling in teaching and learning 
•                  Creating a caring school community 
•                  Inspiring transformational leadership

Since the Charter’s inception six years ago I have remarked on how these five elements have been implemented and put into action in the school where I am privileged to work, and in other Edmund Rice Schools. As with all good Catholic schools an Edmund Rice School enjoys a good partnership with both home and parish. The pupils’ spirituality is developed through prayer and reflection and through regular celebration of the Mass in a coming together as a school community. ER Schools are clearly faithful to the life of Jesus but given Edmund Rice’s great devotion to Mary his mother it is no surprise that teachers in ER Schools also look to her as a model of faithfulness in their teaching. Given that many borders have been broken down throughout the world, it is poignant that Edmund Rice Schools celebrate diversity by welcoming pupils of different nationalities, other Christian traditions and faith backgrounds, and strive to help them grow in their own faith while respecting the Catholic ethos of the school.

The Edmund Rice Awards which are held annually in a different host school see representatives from our schools come together to celebrate being part of a wider Christian network. Pupils share their experiences in promoting ERST values within their respective schools and their presentations often place great emphasis on the environment and the respect shown for God’s creation. This is reflected in the lengths taken to recycle materials, to grow and nurture vegetables for consumption, as well as the organisation of jumble sales to reduce waste and raise money for Christian Brothers’ projects throughout the world, most recently the Edmund Rice 250 Appeal. This fosters a true awareness of what is happening worldwide. Pupils are also mindful of the poor and elderly closer to home, collecting non-perishable food at Christmas time for the Society of St Vincent de Paul hampers for the needy.

Pupils retain a strong sense of their own Irish identity in this growing global community. The efforts the Christian Brothers made to promote the Irish language and culture down through the years are noteworthy and many ER schools continue this tradition. The school I work in is home to a thriving ‘Bunscoil’ as pupils are immersed in this rich language. Pupils in ER Schools also participate in Gaelic competitions such as the Rice Cup (Gaelic Football) and Hamill Cup (Hurling) to advance Irish sport and culture, and in cross-country running.

Ultimately, Edmund Rice Schools value everyone and seek to build a strong community where no one is forgotten. This stems, I believe, from the emphasis placed on the life of Blessed Edmund Rice as a role model of one who was faithful to Jesus, who sacrificed himself for others in his efforts to feed, clothe and educate the poor young boys of Waterford and later, with the help of his fellow brothers, to bring that vision to other parts of the world.

So along with my ERST colleagues in my school and with the wider network, I endeavour to build upon the strong foundations laid down in the Charter where Edmund Rice Schools are asked to respond ‘to the evolving needs of the students in a changing world through ongoing review, evaluation and assessment and by engaging with best educational practice.’ (ERST Charter).                 

Let’s hope Blessed Edmund Rice will continue to be an inspiration to us as we make the elements of the Charter a reality for all in this modern age.

“Go ndéantar toil Dé sa mhéid seo agus i ngach aon ní a dtugaimid faoi.” – Éamann Rís Beannaithe.