As a chaplain I hold on to the Dewey philosophy of education, which meets students where they are, assists them to grow so that they are prepared to cope with the various stages of life . For this reason, I am responsible to the spiritual and religious needs of the students and staff, while respecting the freedom or the religious and personal convictions of each and every one of them. I supply a service where students and staff can find room, encouragement and opportunities to grow in their human, and personal development, knowledge and faith. As a ‘faith presence’, my special role is shepherding. Psalm 23 has a wonderful description of this: ‘He lets me rest in fields of green and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water; he gives new strength; he guides me in the right paths, as he has promised’. Therefore my position as a chaplain has at its core, the aspects of trust and protection, that are essential to any pastoral care system. This will call for the setting up of a place of calm, peace, tranquillity, and renewed strength for the students and staff.
As a chaplain I have a special role of attending staff briefings, with a view to contribute on issues, which have moral, spiritual and pastoral implications. I am also available to act as advisor in any academic subject area where there are issues of faith and morals. And I especially work in close relationship with the teachers of the RE department. I also have the responsibility of fostering links with the home parishes of the students. This can involve; inviting and enabling the local priest[s] to take part in liturgical celebrations within the school; also inviting and welcoming priests into the school to meet their young parishioners; Inviting and enabling the local priest[s] to assist with reconciliation services in the school, or to visit classes or speak to groups. In this way the student become aware of liturgical celebrations and other events in their parish [es]. Thus, I can vigorously encourage the participation of both students and staff.
Confidentiality is a major part of my work as a chaplain. The individual’s right to confidentiality must be respected. I am bound by confidentiality at all times except when a person’s life is in danger, and then I am to inform the necessary authorities. In these later cases the School Chaplain’s Association Guidelines for Chaplains, states that the person with whom the chaplain should confer should be the Principal, his/her Deputy-Principal or Careers and Guidance Counsellor as appropriate or required. In the case of a child protection concern, I will liaise with the designated child protection person within the school
The prayer life of the school community is also my responsibility as a chaplain. I provide daily prayer in the school and prepare and lead the prayers for special gatherings of the school community. As stated, I have a special duty in the school with regard to the celebration of the sacraments. Making sure that Sacrament of Reconciliation is available to the students and staff in an appropriate manner, perhaps monthly or seasonally.
I found Blackrock College ‘mission statement’ suitable and favourable to the work of a chaplain. The College ethos aims to provide an environment in which; ‘faith is nurtured; students can develop their full potential; personal responsibility is promoted; students are prepared for an appropriate career; students are made aware of their cultural heritage; parental collaboration is promoted and encouraged’. This ethos infact, summarises my work as a chaplain. I am very grateful to the school authorities, the President, Principal, RE Staff member, and members of the pastoral team for their good support and encouragement. The students are also quite open and friendly toward me. They are docile and want to hear me speaking from a different cultural perspective. Their intriguing and stimulating questions add to my insights. The students are quite bright in academics, and even though they can sometimes be very passionate about rugby ball, they are also inclined to religious affairs.
I had a case of a student who explained in a religion class in one of the Schools I had my pastoral placements that he was an atheist. In religion classes, the said student took naps or was indifferent or occasionally antagonistic. He was not even ready to share his story with any one. In fact he was closed to himself. On two occasions I made attempt to have a chat with him after religion class but it were not successful. Either he was rushing to go to the next lesson or was not ready to pay attention to me. Upon reflection on how to approach him, I thought that I would first find a way to make him feel at his ease with me before I would talk with him. Fortunately, in one of the classes before Christmas break, while teaching the class, I used the word ‘eschatology’ one student then asked for the meaning of ‘eschatology’. In the process of explaining it as ‘events after life’ or ‘the world to come’ the concepts of heaven and hell appeared. To my greatest surprise the group asked me ‘Do you believe in the reality of heaven? In which I replied with strong emphasis ‘Yes’. And then I asked them ‘and what about you, do you believe? Attention was shifted to the student who earlier declared himself to be an atheist. They were indirectly involving him to defend his position as atheist. Upon looking at him he was shy and seemingly depressed. I felt the group wanted to embarrass or ridicule him, so I quickly came to his rescue and diffused the tension by saying that ‘It is not as if he does not believe, but I think he has a lot of questions and unresolved doubts that are personal to him which could happen to any- body at anytime. ‘Do not be surprise if his faith is stronger than ours in the future.’ With this I felt a sense of relief from his face while the lesson was going. After the lesson, as others were rushing out for the next lesson, it caught my attention that he was delaying going out unlike before. While I was still packing my belongings together he approached me, all the rest of the students had left the class. He told me he was delighted with what happened. And I asked him why?, he answered ‘what you said is the case’ ‘I have a lot of unresolved problems about the reality of God; ‘How can I continue to have faith and trust in the one who does not seem to hear my prayers? But I asked him ‘Do you pray that your own will be done or God’s will? The Dialogue continued from the class to the door of staff room.
But what is interesting is that this student is now feeling at home discussing religious matters. He seems to be very active and vibrant in the Religion classes now. I think he is gradually becoming interested. He stops any-where he sees me to interact with me merely about the Christian faith. I leant a lot from this. I thought it was the positive attitude I adopted towards his situation that made him becomes open to speak and share his life’s story with me. He sensed that I understood his situation and could confide on me. I am optimistic that he will eventually become positive towards religion.
In conclusion, therefore, it is imperative to state that my role as a chaplain is of great importance. It is an essential component in the structure of the school; it is not an added extra. It is very instrumental in helping the adolescents cherish and live the values of Christ. In the footsteps of Christ, I look forward to meeting students in their everyday situations, walking with them, and inviting them to holistic maturity and a fuller life in Christ.
Monahan Luke & Caroline Renehan. The Chaplain: A faithful Presence in The School Community. Dublin: colour Books Ltd Blackrock, 1998.
School Chaplains’ Association, Guidelines for Chaplains.
U.M. Collins. Pastoral Care, A Teachers Handbook.