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St Cecilia’s College, Derry

Mass celebrating 50 years

November 22 2017

Bishop Donal McKeown

A lot has changed since this college first opened its doors at the start of September 1967 and since 22nd November in that year when it was officially. Houses were first built in the Creggan 70 years ago, a spot whose name means a rocky place. And generations of strong people have built up this community on solid foundations. Among the key features of life in this area of the city have been the schools, at both primary and post-primary levels – and these school have been led and staffed by strong women and men. So today we celebrate the first 50 years not just of a school but of the entire enterprise which has seen the local community build, support and cherish St Cecelia’s. Education has been a key element on the path to self-respect, resilience and solidarity. Today we salute mighty women principals along with their staff, governors and parents. Without them, this community would not be the vibrant place that it is. On this feast of the patroness of St Cecelia - patroness of your school and of music – we are grateful for all those who have helped the young women of this community to sing and dance in the face of great joys and terrible adversity.

It was last year on this date that I was in the College for the launch of the new House system in the College. You did not pick the names of local town lands or of colours. Instead you picked faith, courage, peace, grace and hope. That speaks of the values and ideals that the school wants to hand on to its young people. In a world of very fragile heroes, you invite them to dream of doing beautiful things with their lives and you offer them the vocabulary which will support them in that.

Firstly, this is a Catholic school and you are explicitly dedicated to helping young people discover faith in a God who has faith in them. The school alone cannot do the work of faith-building which ultimately belongs to the parish – but the school can be a huge help in building faith in young people. And the language of faith is not just about believing in God who lives somewhere. It is a language about who we are and what life is about. Our own culture gives us the means by which to live – but too many people are dying because they do not have a reason for which to live. It is ironic that earlier generations were able, with faith, to survive great poverty and challenges, whereas our comparatively affluent age is plagued by doubts and fears. House of Faith, show faith in God, faith in yourselves and faith in the future. You will be a blessing on those who find it hard to believe in anything.

Your second house is called Courage. It is the courage of strong women which has made such an enormous contribution to this community. Men may have seemed to have the leading roles in politics and church – but without the quiet courageous women, none of us would have survived. It takes enormous courage to believe in, and to love life. Your patron Cecilia believed that there were things more important than self-interest. House of Courage, do not be afraid of fear. Face the future and its problems with the confidence that comes from faith. Help each pupil to believe in their dignity, even when others might laugh at such a silly idea.

The third house is Peace. For years, people in this community dreamed of and worked for peace. Peace is not the mere absence of war but the fruit of justice. Pope Paul VI was Pope when your school was founded and he said, “if you want peace, work for justice.’[1] We have discovered here that peace does not fall from the sky but that it has to be worked for. That is why it is so unfair to our young people when some individuals and groups seem to want to drag us back to the terrible old days of violence. The vast majority of people in this society believe that violence destroys human lives and hardens human hearts. It takes much more courage to face violence than it does to perpetrate it. House of Peace, help us all learn lessons from the past.

Grace is the name of the fourth house. Grace is not some magic spiritual petrol. It looks at life with an attitude of gratitude. It rejoices in and sings at the beauty which blesses our lives. It sees the beautiful things even in the midst of the pain of being human. Grace rejoices that the best things in life are free – love, friendship, life, forgiveness and the grace to be happy because our lives are all of eternal value. House of Grace, help us to rejoice in the beauty that is in each person and help us to see the beauty in ourselves, even when we have been scarred by painful experiences. Learn to be grace-ful and allow your unique giftedness to shine through.

Finally comes the house of Hope. There is much need of hope in an age where many fear the future. Hope does not just daydream about the future. The founders of your school worked hard to set up St Cecilia’s because they knew the value of investing in your future. People of hope sow seeds, trusting that a harvest will come. People of hope are not afraid to have faith in the future, are prepared to face problems with courage, they believe it is worth working for peace and they recognise that their lives are graced in many ways. House of Hope, have beautiful dreams and help all of us to believe that we can achieve them.

Today we celebrate these values that have been at the heart of what this College has always stood for. You teach much more than subjects. You have taught thousands of young people from all sorts of backgrounds and have been committed to giving them qualities and not just qualifications. Because of this, Catholic education will always be in demand because you offer the power for transformation and not just information. Any good educator can teach maths or geography, or how to be good at technology. It takes an exceptional person to teach the young what it means to be good.