Archbishop Longley with Mr Francis Robinson, a close family friend of Aleena Biju with the new award
Archbishop Longley praised students and staff at St Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in Birmingham during a visit recently. He also learnt about Aleena Biju award, named after a model pupil who who was killed in a traffic accident last month.
Address students, staff and governors at St Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in Birmingham at the Annual Governors' Award Evening last Thursday, Archbishop Longley said: "Young people deserve access to opportunities for a purposeful and fulfilling life whoever they are and whatever their background on the basis of the dignity intended for them by God."
The school is situated in the Kings Norton district of Birmingham, less than three miles from Cofton Park, where Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass and beatified Blessed John Henry Newman on Sunday 19 September 2010.
Mr Jim Foley and Mr Laurence Doherty, Chair of Governors, warmly welcomed Archbishop Longley at the start of the two-hour ceremony that included a special report "Our Journey" by the Head Boy Andrew Baker and Head Girl Jade O'Rourke.
The Archbishop of Birmingham thanked Mr Jim Foley the popular Headteacher of St Thomas Aquinas School, affectionately known as "Tommy's" for inviting him to be present.
The presentation of the various awards was interspersed with beautiful singing, music and dance by the Aquinas School Choir, Instrumentalists, Gospel Quartet, Classical Music Trio, Irish Duet and Irish Dancers, that made for a most enjoyable evening.
During his address Archbishop Longley said: "It is very uplifting to realise what can be achieved not only by individuals but as a community working together for the benefit of all its members.
"St Thomas Aquinas School community has clearly created a purposeful environment that is underpinned by the values of the Gospel. I realise that the Catholic nature of this school and its life of faith are greatly cherished here.
"It is important to the young people themselves as well as to the staff, governors and parents that you are part of a family of schools within the Archdiocese."
Archbishop Longley emphasised: "Tonight is a symbolic moment for you - it symbolises and it expresses the value that is placed on each young person here. That value does not lie in what you can achieve but in the person doing the achieving. You are valued for who you are simply because you are the beloved of God.
"The fundamental respect that our Catholic faith demands for every person is fruitful when we experience it. It gives a sure footing for developing all those skills, intellectual, artistic and sporting that we have been admiring tonight.
"It also gives a sure foundation for making a worthwhile and influential contribution to the communities of which we are part. That basis of respect helps you to see potential in one another and to encourage it rather than to dismiss another person’s achievements. We are also celebrating your Christian commitment to the common good and its impact beyond the school gates.
"You are a lively and encouraging part of the Church in our Archdiocese. You are bringing others into contact with Christ by the way you live and behave as individuals and as a school community. Thank you for taking your faith in God seriously and for wanting to live according to the values of the Gospel.
"That was very clear in the way your school community showed great care for those most affected by the sudden death of young Aleena Biju, especially her family and her friends. We remember Aleena and her parents in our prayers tonight."
Archbishop Bernard Longley concluded: Thank you also for taking to heart the words of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, when he visited us last September and spoke directly to young people. He said: I hope that among those of you listening to me today there are some of the future saints of the twenty-first century."
Tonight we can be thankful that in your achievements we see that your school is indeed enabling you to be highly skilled. But we also see that all that you receive here and (perhaps more importantly) all that you give here is enabling you to find your true selves and your true happiness as you aim for something greater still."
After thanking Archbishop Longley, Mr Foley said that exactly five weeks to the day the school had received the phone call that all schools dread. "One of our Year 7 students, Aleena Biju, was knocked down and very seriously injured as she ran for her bus on her way to school on the morning of Thursday 3 March."
There was total silence in the packed, standing room only, school sports hall as Mr Foley continued: "A couple of hours later we were informed by the hospital that Aleena had died."
The Headteacher went on to say that St Thomas Aquinas School was going to present an annual award, the Aleena Biju in memory of Aleena, who though she had only been at the school for six months "was a model pupil" who had made a tremendous impact on the school community.
The Headteacher invited Francis Robinson, a close personal friend of Aleena's parents, who were still in India, to receive the first annual "Aleena Biju Award" from the Archbishop of Birmingham."
It was a deeply moving and memorable moment in the life of St Thomas Aquinas Catholic School and the Archdiocese of Birmingham.
Headline picture shows head teacher Jim Foley with Archbishop Longley.