The Past, Present and Future of Catholic Schools: a talk by Breda O’Brien

Catholic schools in Ireland are undergoing the same tremendous changes as Irish society itself. They are becoming more secular and less Catholic as the same happens to Ireland. Only a minority of teachers are practising Catholic and pupils and their parents rarely go to Mass. They are struggling to maintain a truly Catholic ethos.

In this talk, Breda O’Brien, who has taught in a Catholic girls’ secondary school for several decades, reflects on the challenges facing Catholic schools and the pupils in them.

She looks at the history of Catholic education and especially the legacy of the female religious congregations who have made a huge contribution to Irish society that is often either forgotten or overshadowed by the scandals.

As she says: “The role of these religious orders cannot be overstated. They not only provided education, particularly to young women, they also provided school buildings and teachers. In fact, the odd system of funding of second level voluntary schools, known as the capitation grant…grew out of the fact that payments were made according to the number of pupils as salaries were not paid to the teachers.”

Breda points out that there is nothing odd about the State funding denominational schools and that this happens in many countries, including secular France.

She asks what can be done to preserve Catholic schools into the future and says we need to:

  • Support and praise what your local Catholic school does well
  • Get involved – volunteer where you can
  • Discuss, thrash out, model with your own young people at home what faith means.
  • Work on providing your young people with Catholic peers – Youth 2000, Catholic Scouting Organisations, Catholic religious movements, and so on.

You can read the whole of her talk here: The future of Catholic Schools and our young people in them

(Breda O’Brien is also a columnist with The Irish Times and a patron of The Iona Institute. The talk was delivered at Booterstown Parish Centre in Dublin on February 6, 2024. It is part of a series of talks organised by Skellig and The Iona Institute).