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Catholic Education week 2021

This year, the theme of Catholic Education Week is “Celebrating and Worshipping.”  In our Catholic schools the pandemic has taken its toll and disrupted our ability to come together. However, the pandemic has not disrupted the purpose and mission of our Catholic school, the celebration of our values and our unique ethos.

To the contrary, it has been a lifeline that has kept us together on a turbulent covid sea and made us stronger as an educational community. Our teachers have worked hard throughout the pandemic and undoubtedly been sustained by our Catholic heritage and culture.

Here at St John’s RC Academy, we are fortunate that we have an all through school chaplaincy and liturgy committee that plan for acts of worship. However, our school masses are of necessity smaller and more intimate, due to the pandemic, as we are prohibited for celebrating in large gatherings in assembly halls. However, we are fortunate enough to have an oratory that is the heart of our school community. Our feeder primaries would be lucky to have such a reserved space.

The oratory as its name suggests, is a small chapel, especially for private worship for staff and pupils, where mass is celebrated weekly and morning prayer often. Over the past year we have redesigned this space, making it more conducive to prayer, celebration, and worship. On one wall are pictures of our school patron St John the Baptist, including a mosaic in the Byzantine style from “Hagia Sophia” or Holy Wisdom, the meeting place of East and West in Constantinople, or modern-day Istanbul.

St John Chrysostom reminds us on entering such a holy place: “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know that God dwells there among men, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty;” and so it is the case when we enter our school oratory, we should be reminded of the sacredness and quiet splendour of what lies before us.  At the back is a beautiful wooden carved statue of Our Lady and above the altar we have a large crucifix that came from St Columba’s High, before our schools merged, illustrating a symbolic link with what went before.

The Baptism of Christ

Behind the altar itself, framed in gold, is “The Baptism of Christ” by the Tuscan painter Piero Della Francesca painted in 1437. Christ stands in a shallow, winding stream as John the Baptist pours a small bowl of water over his head. Three angels in colourful robes witness the event. At this very moment the voice of God was heard – ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3: 16) – and the Holy Spirit, shown here as a dove flying over Christ’s head and towards us, descended upon him.

This painting was made for the small chapel dedicated to Saint John the Baptist in the Camaldolese abbey of Piero’s hometown, Borgo Sansepolcro. Our school oratory is also a place that represents our spiritual home, and it is a delight to be able to celebrate and worship there as a Catholic educational community; both before, during and after an often-frenetic school day, even in the midst of an international pandemic. Please pray for our schools, both now and in the future, as our Catholic schools and their educational mission rely on your wholehearted love and continuous support.

Dr Robert Staines

St John’s RC Academy

Acting Head Teacher.