The following is the homily delivered by Monsignor Joseph McGuinness, Diocesan Administrator and a former President of St Michael’s College, Enniskillen, at a Mass to mark the 60th Anniversary of the college on Thursday 11 January 2018.
My dear friends,
In the entrance hall of this building is preserved the foundation stone of St Michael’s College, laid by the then Bishop of Clogher, Dr O’Callaghan, in 1957. Many more stones have been set in place over the 60 years since then to create the College that we know today, and it is a gift to us to have this time together this evening to reflect on what has been achieved since then. It is a moment to remember, perhaps to reminisce, but above all to give thanks.
Always be thankful, St Paul says, and in the midst of a world that seems to be filled with problems and difficulties and challenges, it’s important to take time to look to the great goodness that there is within us and around us, to acknowledge and appreciate the gifts that we have, to recognise and count our blessings.
If Bishop O’Callaghan’s foundation stone is a physical reminder to us of the origins of this College, it should also remind us that bricks and mortar are only the shell which a school inhabits. In the Gospel, Jesus refers to Peter as the rock on which the Church will be built. In the first letter of Peter, all of us as Christians are described as being living stones which build up a spiritual house. St Michael’s was founded, not simply on that one foundation stone, but on the living stones of those who had a vision for the education of young men in Count Fermanagh and the south of Tyrone. It was built on foundations which had already been laid by the Presentation Brothers 54 years previously and it was their service and generosity which helped enabled this College to come into being.
Gathered here this evening are many people who have been part of the building of this living house of study, prayer and action, as well as those who continue that work to this day. We are very pleased to have with us the last remaining member of the original staff appointed by Dr O’Callaghan 60 years ago, Canon Patrick Marron, who gave over 20 years of committed service to the College. We wish you, Canon Marron, continued health and every possible blessing.
St Paul, in the letter to the Corinthians, when thanking God for the graces which we have received, speaks particularly of how we are enriched by our teachers, and in our Mass this evening we express in our prayer a deep gratitude for the teachers who guided so many young men in this College over the last 60 years. Those of us who are past pupils will have our own particular memories of the teachers we had – their talents and expertise, their dedication and commitment and perhaps also their occasional eccentricity. We may remember how they tried to persuade and cajole us into learning something, whatever methods of persuasion they may have used, but we cannot with hindsight be in any doubt that they wanted us to achieve our best and to get the best possible start in life. Many have gone to their eternal reward and must now be looking down on their former students with a mixture of amusement and amazement. But hopefully they, and their successors, in the words of the Book of Proverbs, educated those in their care in the ways of wisdom and guided them along the paths of honesty. Through the efforts of all who work here, may students past, present and future be sources not only of amusement and amazement, but of pride as well.
From its very inception, St Michael’s has been a Catholic Diocesan College. This is hugely important to the school’s identity and ethos. The College has always been at the service of the northern part of the Diocese of Clogher, welcoming students from throughout the county of Fermanagh and the southern parishes of County Tyrone. The school has always seen itself as being a living part of the living local church, both as parish and diocese. It has endeavoured to support the faith development and spiritual growth of young people, helping them to understand and live out the Christian vocation to serve God and others. The College has also, as Bishop O’Callaghan envisaged, nurtured vocations to the priesthood and we are pleased that there are several past students among the priests here this evening. One, Fr Brian D’Arcy, was ordained to the priesthood in this very chapel. We earnestly pray that more priestly vocations may grow among the students here, with the grace and help of God.
In celebrating the work of this College, we are also celebrating and affirming the partnership between home, school and parish which is so vital to the social and spiritual growth of our young people. The values of the Gospel lie at the heart of the ethos of every Catholic school, as they do in parish and home. The ethos of a Catholic school is not a simple matter of outward signs or routine gestures, but an embedded philosophy which is rooted in Christian principles and Catholic faith. It reflects core values of respect, integrity, hospitality, inclusiveness and social justice. At the centre is an appreciation of the unique value of everyone as a child of God and education as ordered towards the development of the whole human person and not simply a utilitarian process for producing economically useful members of society. Such an ethos can sometimes seem elusive and intangible, but we are keenly aware when it is present, and even more keenly aware when it is not.
May our celebration this evening be one of gratitude for all the good that this school has achieved; may it be an expression of our hope for the future and our support and prayer for those to whom that future is entrusted; may we not be daunted by problems, difficulties and challenges but filled with confidence and trust in the foundations laid over the last 60 years. And may the God who gives us peace and joy make us completely his and keep us in the guidance, inspiration and protection of his Spirit.
Mgr Joseph McGuinness
President, St Michael’s College, 2000-2006