Chairs packed up at a school (stock)

Schools in Ireland shed ‘Catholic’ label in bid to survive, become more inclusive

In an historic first, three primary schools in Ireland have shed their Catholic identity and made the switch in real time to multi-denominational patronage.

Driving the news

The three small rural schools – Lecarrow School in County Roscommon, and Tahilla National School and Scoil an Ghleanna, both in County Kerry – were due to make the change Thursday, as RTÉ reports.

In the past, the Catholic Church has allowed defunct Church schools to be reinvented as multi-denominational ones.

But this is the first time in Ireland’s history that existing Church schools have made a ‘live’ switch to come under local Education and Training Board structures.

Go deeper

With just 14 pupils in the case of Scoil an Ghleanna – and eight in the case of both Lecarrow and Tahilla – ensuring the schools’ survival was a key factor in the decision to switch patronage.

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But a need to be more inclusive also played a part, as did a desire to put Catholic education back in the hands of parents.

“We had a third of our pupils who were non-religious, so we had to look at this”, Principal of Scoil an Ghleanna, Sorcha Ni Chatháin, told RTÉ.

“We needed to look at how we were going to keep pupils, and entice others.

“We are a beautiful school in the most stunning location, and now we can show – formally, on paper – that we are all inclusive”.

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For the record

A parent at Scoil an Ghleanna, Gerardette Uí Chéilleachair, also praised her school’s change in patronage.

“I’m absolutely delighted”, she said.

“As long as there are Catholic parents who want their children to be raised as Catholics then that will happen. That is not the responsibility of schools or teachers”.

Julia Clarke, another parent, said it was “validating” for her children, who don’t take religious classes.

“We live in a multi-cultural society”, added Scoil an Ghleanna parent Julianne McGillicuddy.

“It’s really the way things should be going”.

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Why it matters

Each of the three schools will now offer an multi-belief and values program, with Catholic instruction to be relegated to outside school hours, RTÉ said.

But parish priest Fr. Patsy Lynch told the public broadcaster that far from weakening Catholic identity, the switches in patronage will strengthen it.

“A lot of priests in active ministry in Ireland will tell you that they are not happy with sacramental preparation taking place in the schools”, Lynch explained.

“They feel it should be taken out because parents are not as involved as they should be. This is what the community wanted and I was happy to facilitate that process”.

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