Michaelmas term, dark night, deluge outside, beer in hand, sparsely lit back room of a quiet provincial pub – a school chaplain and an RE teacher plot.
Or at least, that’s how I’d write it if this were a (clearly scintillating) Hollywood plot line. Alas, it’s not, and so I suppose I ought to lay out the banal reality – we (Fr Millar, our school chaplain, and I) decided one night in the Autumn term that it would be great to organise a conference in Carlisle, roughly equidistant between so many important centres of Catholic thought and practice, to facilitate a discussion about the Catholic education sector and, to pilfer a book title from the venerable Will Hutton, The State We’re In.
Well, I’m delighted that, thanks to the personal kindness and commitment of so many who were willing to support the event, even at personal cost, that original idea has now borne fruit.
As such, we hope to bring together a range of voices for an honest discussion of what life is like in our schools, to identify our successes, to assess the obstacles before us, to explore what we can realistically do to confront the challenges we face, and to sketch out what the future might hold for us. This means academics, but also school leaders, diocesan education officers, governors, parents, those involved in politics and policy, and, of course, teachers - the thinking goes that these groups too infrequently get chance to come together to thrash out ideas and discuss solutions, and none of us benefit from this.
It should be said that there is no editorial line and the day is an honest attempt to facilitate discussion in an atmosphere of collegiality and friendship – under the recognition that we are all seeking to walk the same path and deliver for our students the best education we can provide. If you have a view at all then you already meet the qualification criteria - come along!
As such, the intended audience is… well anyone with an interest of faith schooling, really. Whilst the conference will hopefully prove to be of interest to leaders and aspiring leaders in the Catholic education sector, we hope there will also be enough to entice anybody interested in the broader principles at stake as the faith school sector seeks to faithfully live out its mission in rapidly changing socio-political contexts.
The format will consist of two keynote papers and four seminar sessions (and food, obviously. Mustn't forget the food). The keynote papers will be broad-based reflections focusing on, firstly, the challenge contemporary liberalism presents to the Catholic vision of education and, secondly, what Catholicity means in the context of Catholic institutions and how we might look to both preserve (and expound?) that identity and ethos. The four seminar sessions - two in the morning and two in the afternoon - will comprise of two papers presented for informal discussion and are entitled: What makes a Catholic school Catholic?; Faith and Leadership; Challenges at the Chalkface; If not this, then what? [Alternative models of Catholic education]
We have a variety of speakers - from academia and school leaders, to teachers and public policy experts - presenting papers on themes as diverse as the formation of Catholic teachers, the unique vision of Catholic education, and the challenge of teaching RE in a post-Christian, pluralist society.
The event is organised in association with the Diocese of Lancaster Education Service and the current speaker list is below.
Bishop Michael Campbell (Diocese of Lancaster)
Professor Robert Davis (University of Glasgow)
Professor James Arthur (University of Birmingham)
Dr. Ros Stuart-Buttle (Liverpool Hope University)
Dr. Adrian Pabst (University of Kent)
Dr. Phillip Blond (ResPublica)
Dom Antony Sutch (Downside)
Charlotte Vardy (Candle Conferences)
Mary Clarkson (Labour councillor, Catholic voices, Chair of Governors)
Andy Lewis (RE teacher, Head of Year, Brentwood Diocese)
Mr Stephen Tierney (Executive Director of MAT - Christ the King, St. Cuthbert's and St. Mary's Catholic academies)
The event will commence at 10:00am, with lunch and refreshments provided throughout the day. Tickets are priced at £25 and all leftover funds will be donated to Mary's Meals.
And why Porta Fidei? Well, for the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI issued an Apostolic Letter entitled ‘Porta Fidei’, meaning ‘door of faith.’ It was a reflection on Acts 14:27, and at the start of his letter Pope Benedict reflects: ‘It is possible to cross that threshold when the word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace. To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime.’ Perhaps in those words, in that imagery, we see already a model of what a Catholic school is called to be, and indeed to do.
If you would like to attend then you can book your tickets here: Porta Fidei
If there are any questions or inquiries regarding the event, please do contact me using the contact link within the Porta Fidei ticket page above.