Catherine the Educator

Following is an outline of the presentation given by Mary Reynolds rsm on the topic 'Catherine the Educator'

The Gate Lodge at Coolock House c. 1870

1.  Why Education was so important to Catherine

  • Political decision to keep Irish ignorant
  • Transformation of society
  • Empowerment of people, especially women

2. Early involvement in education

  • Gatehouse at Coolock
  • School in Abbey St.                                                                     

3. Baggot St.

  • Emphasis on excellence and relevance

- Visit to France
- Visit to Kildare St. Schools

  • What she set up

- Elementary school
- Secondary school (Carlow)
- Technical/Skills Education
- Monitress Training

  • Relationship with Church &State

‘Fit the children for earth without unfitting them for heaven’
- Balanced wholistic education
- Joined the National School System (3 reasons)
- Catholic Emancipation/ Catholic Opposition

House of Mercy Baggot Street

4. Her Vision

  • To bring freedom and better quality of life to those who were poor
  • To regenerate Irish Society by preparing young people for responsible adult living
  • To lead all in her care to a deeper faith n Jesus Christ

5. Her approach

  • Collaborative – e.g. National School System; Parishes; Did not duplicate
  • Participative – open to all; elicited support of others in the community
  • Innovative – new teaching methods, varied curriculum, training
  • Inspirational: Broke through impossibilities of her time

6. Aim

    • The empowerment of the individual
    • The promotion of Christian Values
    • The transformation of Society
    • The building of community
    • The development of a counter cultural vision

The Characteristics of a Mercy Inspired Education
Wholistic and Integrated:

Fit the Children for earth without unfitting them for heaven

- forming the young person in the sense of a truly mature and rounded, talented and creative human person
- and the reality in which that person is called to live - a reality that is not just the transient but also the intransient.
- Not just imparting techniques and knowledge but empowering a young person to engage the realities of her/his life and realities of her/his world with freedom and responsibility
- Not just knowledge but wisdom – implies a relationship
- Formation & Information –
- ‘In the Catholic school’s education project, there is no separation between time for learning and time for formation, between acquiring notions and growing in wisdom. The various school subjects do not present only knowledge to be attained, but also values to be acquired and truths to be discovered.’ It is necessary then to promote in our schools a curriculum which facilitates an ongoing conversation and dialogue about the meaning of human experience.

Compassionate concern for the Poor
Compassion is a basic attitude towards the suffering of another, whereby one responds to that suffering in such a way as to eradicate it and its causes.
- Catherine’s example : hands on and root causes
- The challenge for our schools today, following in the tradition of Mercy is well put by Joan Chittister OSB who says:

“If our education is really ‘education that makes a difference,
That ‘leads the way’
We have to enable students to assess their world,
Both its raging possibilities and its limitless brutalities,
As well as simply to function in it.

They must leave us able and willing
To envision something better for the world
Than power and profit at any cost.

They must have the skills to question its assumptions
About Darwinian economics and biological stereotypes
Rather than simply accept them.

They must have the commitment to question its social axioms
Rather than simply comply with them”.

- Our schools must continue to do what Catherine did – offer a vision of an alternative society. They must be schools

    • that are open, accessible and inclusive of all without discrimination and that promote positive attitudes to social inclusion of minority groups ; schools where the poor, the marginalized, the stranger are particularly welcome, catered for and cherished.
    • that not only educate the poor and marginalized, but which also critique and enable the students to critique the causes of poverty and marginalisation at local and global level .
    • that encourage students to ‘speak truth to power’ rather than to keep safe within the status quo and that promote a vision that is broad and deep, sensitive and inclusive. that are in the words of Henri Nowen ‘free and friendly spaces where we reach out to strangers and invite them to become friends’.
    • that promote awareness and an understanding that we have a responsibility for our impoverished earth and cannot go on destroying our natural resources and continue to survive.

- schools must look at a new challenge of poverty among young people; poverty of a lost sense of meaning in life, of resignation or indifference and a lack of a coherent ideal. The school today has to address the pain of students who come from families where love is not experienced and transmitted, where the empty idols of consumerism dim the sense of searching for what are the deepest needs of the person. Many young people while highly idealistic have never been led to understand where they must ground their ideals.

Committed to Community Building
Catherine McAuley made a major contribution to Community building through the education system that she pioneered. In her book Tender Mercy, Joanne Regan rsm says:
- ‘She connected the rich to the poor, the educated and skilled to the uninstructed, the influential to those perceived as of no consequence, the powerful to the weak.'

- We belong to one another and therefore have a social responsibility for each other and for the kind of world we inhabit. Likewise, we also belong to the earth and therefore have an ecological responsibility to respect the life of nature.
- In the first instance, the Mercy school is called to create community in the school itselfthat is a feature of our world today, the creation of a school community that values co-operation over competition, collaboration over individualism is a real challenge.
- Environments both shape and express community spirit and values. In this regard, the symbol system of the school is important
- The liturgical, prayer and worship life of the school will also express the reality of the community of the school.
- also calls on the school to form links with the local faith community of parish and Church
- opens outwards to those outside the school community.– people who reach out with generosity to others in the community, with an appreciation of both the rich diversity and interdependence of the human family .
- Many people still live in a ‘broken world’ In teaching our young people to respond to that pain, to develop a sense of service to those in need, we are laying the groundwork for the type of world we want to have in the future.
- our ‘broken world’ is not just about material poverty . Our global realities highlight issues such as corruption and lack of accountability in areas like the world of finance; unacceptable levels of violence and oppression; growth in that industry of emptiness and delusion which is built upon drug trafficking and abuse. In the face of this our schools need to be about creating communities that have a passion for truth, for justice, for honesty for decency and solidarity.
- growing in awareness of our place in the ecological community. In that awareness we foster in our students a desire to live in reverent relationship with all of creation, a respect for life and a care for the earth.

The call to excellence is a consistent theme in the tradition of Mercy.
Catherine – France. Training College. Sisters fully equipped. Standards of discipline and Society often measures academic excellence by results and creates such instruments as league tables and the like. In a school in the Mercy tradition, excellence is, enabling every student to achieve his/her potential.

Excellence is a school committed to:

- The quality of teaching and learning : encourages inventiveness; new perspectives, new questions, new answers to old questions and life long learning
- The updating of its structures and skills to fit evolving needs - fresh articulation of values and practices. probe, try out new ideas. risk new perspectives, or try to see things from a different perspectives. Open to pioneering new initiatives in our schools, ensure that our professional and personal competencies are continually updated and enhanced
- Ongoing reflection and review of itself. Need to be alert to the values underlying our systems and to challenge them where necessary - to think about what the aims of the school should be, to assess how well the school is meeting those aims, and to decide what it can do to create a better fit between aspiration and reality.

Catherine may not have ever heard of the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who lived two and a half thousand years before her, but the words attributed to him may well have been spoken by Catherine, the Educator herself, and ones that we can take to heart as a model of our role as educators

Go to the people: (We might say: Go to your students)
Listen to them
Learn from them
Love them
Start with what they know,
Build with what they have:
But with the best of leaders
When the work has been done, the task accomplished,
The people/ the pupils will say:
“We have done this ourselves.”