Archbishop Nichols praises holistic approach of Catholic schools

 "A Catholic school is not an isolated enterprise, living and functioning in a world of its own, concerned only about its own well-being", emphasised the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham, Chairman, the Catholic Education Service of England and Wales, in London on Tuesday 31 March.

"Like the Catholic Church, it is not only knitted into our wider society but it also has a sense of mission to that wider society. So here there is no place for narrowly defined leadership," said the Archbishop of Birmingham, at the start of his lecture, 'Leading a Catholic School', given at the Commonwealth Club.

"In a Catholic school, the true development of the person, pupils and staff, takes precedence over all other things. We insist that it is more important than the public recognition of the success of the school; than the demands of political pressure; than the requirements of the economy, significant though these things are.

"From the first moment that any person sets foot in a Catholic school he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one that has its own unique characteristics."

Archbishop Nichols was addressing a distinguished audience of academics,school governors and head teachers, at the 'Visions for Leadership' Conference, organised by the Catholic Education Service of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.

"Today there can be no genuine 'human ecology' that fails to recognise the faith and religious experience which is innate in human beings and central to many people in our schools," said the Archbishop.

"We say that at the centre of true human ecology is the person of Christ. He then must be at the centre of our Catholic school. He then must be at the centre of the task of school leadership. He then must be at the centre of the life of the leader. Faith in Jesus and faith in the outflow of that presence of Christ into the Church is the key component to effective leadership in a Catholic school," he stressed.

"It is not surprising then, that in seeking out true leaders for our schools we uphold the provision of the law which recognises and provides for a 'genuine occupational requirement', in schools of a religious character, for posts necessary to securing the objectives and activities of the schools according to that religious character.

"We need 'practicing Catholics' in these key posts, people committed to the inspiration and demands of faith and seeking to put them into practice in all the substantive life choices which they make," stated Archbishop Nichols.

"Catholic schools are places of a covenantal agreement, where we stand together with families, parishes and local communities, to create social solidarity: those bonds between us in which true human flourishing can take place. This is central to the task of leadership in a Catholic school and the reason why it is a genuine service to our society at large," he said.

"The faith we bring to the task of education, the Catholic faith which must lie at the heart of all that the leader does, is not simply a perspective or an interpretation of life. Faith does not simply give us a particular spin
on what happens to us and how we are best to understand it.

"The Christian faith is more than that. Nor is our faith simply an additional source of knowledge, giving us additional information, or clarifying certain dilemmas through the gift of revelation. Our faith is not simply a value adding factor in our human endeavour. In contrast we have to understand that our faith is transforming. It gives us the possibility of living a different kind of life," declared Archbishop Nichols.

"The task of leading a Catholic school is one of great distinction. It involves holding together the role of leadership with the personal and consistent practice of faith. It demands honesty and integrity. It is a noble service and I thank all who fulfil it and I encourage many to aspire to that service," concluded Archbishop Vincent Nichols.

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