Sacred Heart Schools European Regional Heads’ Conference, Dublin 2013

In October around 80 Sacred Heart Educators and RSCJ gathered together in Dublin for the Sacred Heart Schools European Regional Heads’ Conference. The school leaders and coordinators from Austria, Belgium, England, France, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Scotland and Spain were also joined by delegates from Australia and the USA. Sr Barbara Duffy, provincial of Ireland and Scotland , the students, staff and the host committee at the Mount Anville Schools  welcomed everyone very warmly.  

The theme of the conference was “Leading Sacred Heart Education in the 21st Century” and our key speakers: Dr Phil Kilroy RSCJ, author of Madeleine Sophie Barat: A Life and The Society of the Sacred Heart in 19th Century France, and Dr Deirdre Raftery, from University College Dublin and a Director of the Mount Anville Trust. Sr Kilroy’s address was titled, “The Educational Inspiration of Madeleine Sophie Barat”. She gave us a vivid picture of the influences that formed Sophie, her path towards religious life and the varied context in which she operated. We heard about the very practical ways in which she led and the standards she set; so much resonated for the listening head teachers. Sr Kilroy stressed Sophie’s educational philosophy of linking learning with the gospel, a vision based on looking for the good and harmonising the thinking, feeling and the willing powers in a person.  “Passing the torch: trustees, teachers and the legacy of Madeleine Sophie Barat” was the title of Dr Raftery’s address. She stated that an understanding of the history and vision of the Society is key to passing on the torch today. She led us through the challenges of communication in the 21st century, arguing that social media leads young people to look inwards, sometimes with negative effects. The Society’s way is to reflect, but to then look out. She challenged us to embrace new media as a way of spreading our vision today, building on the existing international network and the riches that can bring.  Catherine Day, Secretary General of the European Commission and a past pupil, spoke at dinner about the need to contribute to society.

There were also optional workshops on the Spirituality of Sophie and the Heart, The Goal of Social Awareness, Building Links through Comenius and an introduction to Janet Stuart. There were moments of prayer led by Sr Mary Shiel RSCJ and Sr Norah Smyth RSCJ prepared the Eucharist. Discussion groups allowed delegates to share their ideas, challenges and hopes, as well as make contacts.
The European Coreteam, a group of interested head teachers and coordinators from across the European provinces, has been meeting regularly since the last Heads’ Conference in Paris in 2009. They have created a website, led an international project on prayer and set up short conferences in Joigny for European Sacred Heart Educators. In Dublin they explained their aims and progress and invited the delegates to reflect on how a European Sacred Heart Network could realistically support our schools and networks. In their final evaluations delegates confirmed their appreciation for the project and articulated many positive ideas for the future. Whilst aware of the challenges of time and finance, the Coreteam will meet in 2014 to see what steps can be taken.

These are key areas identified for development:

  • Develop communication and interaction across schools
  • Identify a named contact person in each school apart from the Head teacher
  • Encourage the use and development of the European website
  • Communicate our internationality and its gifts
  • Develop a formation programme for all, drawing on the practice of other networks

From the beginning of the Conference we were reminded that students are at the core of what we do, when choirs from the 3 schools sang to us in the beautiful glass Atrium.  The next day students from all the Irish schools gave us their perspective on the essence of Sacred Heart Education, each group taking one of the Goals and explaining it to us in lively ways including drama, song and individual experience. Linguistically gifted girls gave tours in Spanish and French. There was more beautiful singing and some individual performances during the concert and at supper. Many were very impressed by the quality of all the students shared with us and their pride in their schools.

Delegates are truly grateful to the tremendous effort and generosity of our hosts who gave us a truly Irish welcome, treating us to a concert with Liam Lawton, a ceildh (Irish dance), delicious food as well as incredibly efficient organisation. Huge thanks to the three heads, the Steering committee, Margaret Martin, Chairperson of the Mount Anville Trust and Executive of the Ireland, Scotland, Malta Network and Anna Gethings, the conference organiser.

During the conference the Mount Anville Schools Trust launched their beautiful Hearts and Minds Exhibition which charts the development of the Society and their schools internationally and within Ireland. Researched meticulously, the exhibition was officially opened by Sr Donna Collins RSCJ Secretary General of the Society. She spoke of the importance of developing both a broad critical vision of the world and the “quiet” eye Janet Stuart mentions. This is a reflective eye which allows us to receive the truth of what we are looking at and gaze at it with the compassionate Heart of Jesus.

Margaret Martin’s welcome in the programme introduced us to an Irish phrase “comhar na gcmhasan” which means “neighbours working together and helping each other.” New friendships and bonds were forged in Ireland. We must keep them alive and fruitful for the continuing development of our mission as schools of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Hilary Thompson,
Network Coordinator for ENW and European Coreteam member
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