The life and work of a school chaplain is rewarding though challenging. Two Jesuit priests tell us about their experience with the pupils and how they relate to Christ and Evangelism considering the constant distractions that can impact on the way young people practise faith.

2010 is the Year of the Priest. Two priests Fr. Tim and Fr. Gerry on their roles as school chaplains in Britain sharing their experience of ministry.

There is a great thirst for authentic values amongst the young people I have worked with.  I think they respond positively to people who speak passionately and unashamedly about their faith.  In terms of evangelisation, talking about the person of Jesus, as we encounter him in scripture and in prayer, seems to be something the young are very interested in, partly because it cannot be taken for granted that they have had a prior opportunity to encounter him. Jesus seems to be something ‘new’ and fresh for many and that is exciting.   But also in my experience, they have highly tuned ‘flannel detectors’ – and can spot hypocrisy and an exaggerated or false piety from a mile off!

The biggest challenge for me is something that was raised in one of the decrees of General Congregation 35.  Consumerist culture seems to generate a lot of compulsion and addiction.  I see that amongst many of the young people I work with, particularly in the technological realm (the internet , Xbox, Facebook).  This challenge can lead to a great opportunity – discussing what authentic freedom is, particularly the ideal of Ignatian indifference.

The biggest difficulty of being a chaplain in a school is to be patient and loving in front of the narcissism, hedonism and insecurities that mark adolescent life, particularly when these traits are exaggerated by an obsession with celebrity culture.

A strategy that seems to work well in chaplaincy is giving young people an ‘impact experience’ often based around an experience of service or social justice.  Their generosity is so often unbounded and their desire to do good is inspiring. Those impact experiences (especially in the developing world) can often begin a process of reflection which may lead into prayer or some engagement with the Spiritual Exercises.

Fr Tim Byron SJ at St Ignatius’ College, Enfield

A varied life with a unique spirit

Each day in the life of the Senior School Chaplain reflects the life of every Jesuit; it is ‘varied work with a unique spirit’. There are some constants though; the celebration of Mass in the Sodality Chapel at the start of each school day, where some staff, pupils and parents come to dedicate their day to God as the summit and source of our Christian life. Twice a week (Tuesday and Friday), my attendance is required at our senior school assemblies, with one of these each month given over to Benediction. And there is a lunchtime Mass twice a week for each individual tutor group, of which there are around 35 in the school.

Each day there are conversations to be held regarding some aspect of Christian Formation. Various people – staff, pupils and parents – will seek out the chaplain for advice and support on a range of personal pastoral issues; and, if available, I will attempt to attend memorial services for relatives of current pupils and staff and also services for former pupils. The chaplain also plays an integral role in all the residential retreats that are held for almost all year groups.

There are occasional times when the chaplain is asked to accompany groups on trips away from school. The most recent of these was to our companion school, St Aloysius High school in the midst of the slums of Kibera, Nairobi in Kenya.

I was attracted to the Jesuits by – among other things – the prospect of living a varied life with a unique spirit. As a school chaplain, I cannot say I have been disappointed!

Fr Gerry Gallen SJ, the Senior School Chaplain at St Aloysius College, Glasgow

http://www.catholicsocialteaching.org.uk/themes/life-work/stories/celebrity-culture-technology-challenges-school-chaplain/

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