A few years ago, at the invitation of Bishop John Mone, I became part of the Chaplaincy Team at Trinity High School, Renfrew Scotland; where there are over 1200 pupils aged 12-18 years.
Working closely with two of the local priests, my remit involves organising Masses, para-liturgical celebrations/services, and days of reflection for students. As a counsellor, I am able to see students/staff in a counselling situation, such as trying to support a student/colleague who is living with tragedy or the effects of bereavement. Often I provide a listening ear for over-worked and stressed out teachers!!
From time to time, I have the opportunity to meet with other school Chaplains in different parts of the country. Each individual brings his or her special gifts and unique experiences to this ministry. Previous teaching experience has given me an understanding of what makes young people tick. I've also worked alongside people who have shown me how to be patient and value even the most disaffected teenager.
The biggest challenge in Chaplaincy work within our schools is bridging the gap between faith and culture. Sadly a significant number of students have little regular contact with their faith community.
Difficulties may occur occasionally, such as how to create time for meaningful prayer experiences in a school timetable that is full to the brim with curriculum subjects! The team approach encourages young people to believe that they are an essential part of God's creation; A God who loves them unconditionally. When society dictates that they are only worth what they wear in designer gear or peer group pressure becomes stressful, often the Chaplain can challenge such ideas and lend support. A Catholic school is a Christian community, a family where Gospel values should be lived out. A place where healing, reconciliation and affirmation are possible since for many pupils this may be their only experience of Church. All young people who pass through the school system are encouraged to encounter God in their lives in a variety of ways.
In Trinity High School, I work in an environment where staff offer support, at times more than I
deserve, and where clergy give so generously of their time to maintain the sacramental life of the school. I have learned from all of these people. I care greatly for the work that the Chaplaincy team offers. I feel privileged to be part of the team and be able to make some contribution. The oratory is an important place for all of us in the school community, often providing a place of gathering for worship, or a haven in a busy, difficult day.
Finally, the young people themselves are what make this job worthwhile. I am often amazed and astounded by their keen sense of justice and overwhelming concern for those less fortunate. Fundraising and charity events for Pro-life, Amnesty International, SCIAF, local hospices, and hospitals simply astound me and take my breath away! The pupils help keep me young and smiling!! I find their blatant honesty a refreshing challenge....!
Sr. Ann McColl