Recipient of the Spirit of Catholic Education Award 2024

St Brigid’s Primary School, Downpatrick was awarded the ‘Spirit of Catholic Education Award 2024’ for the second time on Wednesday 24th January in St Mary’s University College, Belfast.
Recipient of the Spirit of Catholic Education Award 2024

St Brigid’s Primary School, Downpatrick was awarded the ‘Spirit of Catholic Education Award 2024’ for the second time on Wednesday 24th January in St Mary’s University College, Belfast.

Mrs Sinead Beare, School Support Officer presented the award to Mr Michael Crossan, Vice Chair of Board of Governors, Miss Shanen Braniff, RE Coordinator and pupils Emma Crossan and Christy Pradeep.

Mrs Beare stated, “The staff and governors of St Brigid’s Primary School have endeavoured to find innovative ways in which they can enable their pupils to begin to tackle some of the many issues facing our planet which have been described in Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si. They wanted to help their pupils to better understand that they are caretakers of this planet for future generations and that the need to answer the call to action by Pope Francis is their moral responsibility.

The school recognised a unique opportunity to increase their pupils’ ecological awareness through the transformation of a wooded area beside the school into a place which would promote mental well-being, outdoor learning and connectivity with nature. The idea was translated into an Action Plan which was firmly embedded in the School Development Plan demonstrating the commitment to the project by the school leadership team. Parents were also provided with a parent friendly version of the plan. The initial focus was on teaching and learning but as this outdoor learning space gradually came to life, the pupils began quite naturally to show concern for this new environment and the animals and plants they encountered in this space. While they worked and played, they ensured that they avoided trampling upon the wildflowers that grew there and installed bird boxes and hedgehog boxes to protect the little creatures with whom they shared this beautiful space.

The children were then introduced to the life and work of St Francis and learned how he too cared for all living things. St Francis’ life and work have served as an inspiration for the pupils and they have been able to see the connection between his love for creation and Pope Francis’ words in Laudato Si. The key messages of Laudato Si are also reinforced at school assemblies where children are constantly reminded that in the words of Pope Francis “every creature and every dimension of creation holds its own value in God’s eyes”.

Whilst the children were developing their spiritual and ecological awareness through time spent in this new outdoor space, the staff wanted to create a specific sacred space and work is ongoing on this project. The Eco Council and the Rosary group have found a suitable place within this outdoor classroom and have begun to identify plants associated with Mary including marigolds, lavender and roses which can be planted in the spring and the hope is to add benches in this space where the school community can spend time in prayer and reflection.

The principal and governors are also acutely aware of the challenges facing teachers today and they want this sacred space to also serve as a haven of spiritual well-being for their staff members. The principal reports that by staff spending time in this space they are also reminded of the importance of linking environmental stewardship to learning and teaching.

The principal and staff hope that by implicitly linking faith with nature, they will encourage and support parents to instil values of environmental responsibility in their children, aligning with the encyclical teachings. The school is to be commended in this outstanding work which has the potential to influence generations of pupils to love and care for our common home and see God in our natural world and to provide these pupils with a space where they can be, sit in peace and feel God’s love and presence.

St Brigid’s school is a most worthy recipient of this award and it gives me great pleasure to invite the representatives to come forward and receive the 2024 Spirit of Catholic education award.”

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