Where We Come From
Catholic education has a long and distinguished history in Ireland. It survived from one generation to the next since the beginning of Christianity on this island. The early monastic schools gave way to the schools of the great European Orders in the twelfth century. The Bardic Schools of the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries running alongside the new monastic schools nurtured the love of learning and, as their name suggests, the poetry that was deep in the psyche of the native population. These schools have left us with religious and devotional poetry of great expertise and beauty. With the fading out of the Bardic tradition the Classical Schools took up the task of providing an education worthy of their predecessors.
The turbulent political situation in Ireland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries culminated in the enactment of the Penal Laws passed between 1695 and 1728. The enforcement of the Penal Laws contributed greatly to reducing the people to poverty and to a lack of learning. To be a teacher or a student in a Catholic setting was punishable by imprisonment, expulsion or even execution.
Throughout these harrowing times the established Religious Orders stayed with the people. They founded schools or kept existing schools going secretly. Huge numbers of hedge schools were established. Some Catholics who had managed to retain their wealth sent their children abroad to be educated. But for most children education was out of reach and for poverty-stricken parents education had to take second place in the battle for survival. It was into this political and religious scene that two Irish Congregations, the Presentation and the Mercy Sisters, were born.
More Recent Years
The schools of these various congregations have operated very successfully in Ireland over many years. From the 1970s onwards certain factors have focused the attention of Congregational Leaders on the nature and adequacy of the Trusteeship of our Catholic Voluntary Secondary Schools. Among these were:
- Changes in civil law and new Acts relating to Education
- Changes in the management structures of our schools
- A decline in the numbers of those entering Religious life
- The transfer of many Religious from the mainstream school ministry to other ministries, particularly those on the margins of society
- A concern that Catholic education should continue to be a viable option for people in a changing Ireland.
CEIST has been formed as an expression of collaborative trusteeship. It has responsibility for all voluntary secondary schools associated with the five collaborating Congregations in the Republic of Ireland. The rise and fall of schools in Ireland is part of the painful history of previous generations. But within the human stories of loss and gain, the love of learning and the deep reverence accorded it has entered into the collective consciousness of Irish people. The five Congregations of CEIST have played their part in keeping alight the torch of learning in Ireland. As they go forward together each school will retain its own individuality and identity, while sharing the common values of Catholic education and of CEIST.