A slow de­cline of Catholi­cism in the class­room

When John Paul II ar­rived here, multi-de­nom­i­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion had barely be­gun. Pope Fran­cis will sur­vey a changed land­scape, writes ed­u­ca­tion ed­i­tor KATHER­INE DON­NELLY

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - STATE OF THE CHURCH - ED­U­CATE TO­GETHER

When Pope John Paul vis­ited Ire­land in 1979, the ac­tiv­i­ties of a small group of par­ents in south Dublin in­volved in a pri­mary school “project” were un­likely to have been on his radar.

Only 12 months ear­lier, the Dalkey School Project had opened its doors to 90 pupils. The winds of so­cial change were stir­ring and these, more lib­er­ally-minded, par­ents did not want a Church-con­trolled ed­u­ca­tion for their chil­dren.

When the na­tional schools sys­tem was es­tab­lished in 1831, it wasn’t meant to be run by the re­li­gious, but the churches moved in. They were left to it by suc­ces­sive govern­ments, happy that the re­li­gious had the sites and the money to build schools. Since then, the Catholic Church has dom­i­nated, not only in terms of scale, but in its gen­eral in­flu­ence.

The Dalkey School Project had a dif­fi­cult ges­ta­tion, with no sup­port from the min­is­ter for ed­u­ca­tion through the mid 1970s, a par­tic­u­larly con­ser­va­tive Fine Gaeler, Dick Burke. Áine Hyland, now Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor of Ed­u­ca­tion at UCC, who was one of those par­ents, cred­its the sup­port of the new Fianna Fáil gov­ern­ment, un­der Jack Lynch, for its even­tual open­ing.

Dalkey was the foun­da­tion stone for Ed­u­cate To­gether, a multi-de­nom­i­na­tional pa­tron body, which has been a cat­a­lyst for change in Ir­ish ed­u­ca­tion. The his­tory of the Catholic Church as well as in its re­la­tion­ship with Ir­ish ed­u­ca­tion show that change, if and when it hap­pens at all, comes slowly.

But, when Pope Fran­cis lands in Ire­land, he will be kiss­ing ground where sods have been turned for a dif­fer­ent ed­u­ca­tional land­scape than that which greeted Pope John Paul II.

The in­ter­ven­ing 39 years have seen a slow and steady whit­tling away at tra­di­tion and mind set, and a con­fronting of new re­al­i­ties.

Ire­land has wit­nessed a large fall off in ad­her­ence to the faith among the sons, daugh­ters, grand­chil­dren of those who turned out for Pope John Paul II.

Along­side that, the in­flux of im­mi­grants since the early noughties brought a wider cul­tural and re­li­gious mix; new fam­i­lies, many of whom do not want a Catholic ed­u­ca­tion for their chil­dren.

An ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem where 90pc of pri­mary schools were un­der Catholic Church con­trol was at odds with these so­ci­etal shifts.

Ed­u­cate To­gether slogged away in the face of Church op­po­si­tion and con­ser­vatism within po­lit­i­cal and Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion cir­cles. Its cur­rent count of 82 pri­mary schools makes it a min­now in a sec­tor with more than 3,200. It is now also in­volved in nine at post-pri­mary (ei­ther as pa­tron or co-pa­tron).

Pres­sure for re­form of a church-dom­i­nated sys­tem was mount­ing else­where, in­clud­ing The Ir­ish Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion (IHRC).

In 2008, the first com­mu­nity na­tional school un­der the aus­pices of a vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion com­mit­tee (now an ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing board) be­came the first State-run pri­mary school. There are now 12.

The real po­lit­i­cal will came with Labour’s

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