From Mrs Mannix Headteacher,
St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Axminster
As we step into this academic year, I sincerely hope that we will say good bye to Covid and the many demands it has placed on our school community.
Without dwelling too much on it, following the lockdown in March 2020, so much stopped. It affected two academic years, closing down so much of our school life and the experiences of our children and community.
To say that everyone was ready for the summer break in the hope of returning to an autumn term with more normality is perhaps the understatement of the year.
During the summer holiday I visited the two Liverpool cathedrals.
The Anglican Cathedral is the largest cathedral and religious building in Britain, and the eighth largest church in the world. It has a traditional Gothic form but actually the design was drawn up in more modern times. The completed design was agreed in 1903 with work beginning in 1904. The cathedral was built in several phases and was finally completed in 1978.
The sense of scale within the building is incredible. It creates a sense of awe and wonder. A sense of God.
The Catholic cathedral could not be more contrasting. Built of grey concrete it is circular in form. As you step inside you are faced with a huge conical form rising upwards. It is filled with light, shining from the thousands of stained-glass windows. At the cathedrals centre there is a sculpture raised up high: an immense steel crown; the thorned crown of Jesus.
This is the largest Catholic Cathedral in the UK.
There are 13 chapels around its perimeter.
Both Cathedrals had complex journeys from conception to reality. I wanted to focus a little on the story behind the Catholic Cathedral.
Liverpool has the highest percentage of Catholics than any other city in the UK. In 1847 with a surge in Catholics who travelled from Ireland, the then Bishop decided that it was time for Liverpool to have a cathedral. Although a lady chapel was built it didn’t get any further due to the demands on the diocese to build schools, orphanages and churches for the growing Catholic population.
In 1922 the then Bishop raised again the discussions about having a cathedral in the city. By 1933 an ambitious plan was underway. Almost £1million had been raised by the Catholic population. This was a time of struggle and monies were raised from very local people making extra ordinary sacrifices and church communities holding fund raising events. In the next few years, the foundation stone and the crypt were completed but the finished building costs were now estimated at £27 million.
With the second world war and the challenges of its aftermath the project was again shelved.
In 1953 the original ambitious plans were scaled back but eventually a new bishop decided that scaling back the plans would never make a viable project so he had them scrapped and the plans were re started. He stated that the project must be realised within five years and come in at a cost of £1m.
Despite the seeming impossibility of this the building work did begin in October 1962.
Less than five years later, on the Feast of Pentecost, 14 May 1967, the completed Cathedral was consecrated.
The completed Cathedral of Christ the King is a dramatic icon of faith, architecture, and human endeavour. An awe-inspiring landmark on the Liverpool skyline. A breath-taking expression of possibility: God’s possibility.
The journey from the first idea for Cathedral to the final completion tells a story of challenge and determination. It reminds me that a straight forward path is not always possible. It strengthens me to know that the people of Liverpool realised the project despite the challenges.
Looking forward into this year we sincerely hope that the story of Covid is behind us and that we will be learning to live alongside it rather than stopped by it.
At the beginning of the Covid journey during and following lockdown 1 there was a national dialogue considering what we might learn, what we might take away from this experience.
For me, for our school, I would hope that it has strengthened people’s understanding that the school experience is so much more than subjects and lessons.
At the very end of last term, we started to sing again in school and to hear the sounds of music lessons. It lifted and moved everyone.
At the very end of term we had a mass here in church for our Year 6 pupils. We were able to invite Year 6 parents and the Year 5 pupils as this allowed us to maintain hubs within the church space. As a congregation we sang three hymns.
Hearing the children singing was very emotional.
At the sign of peace the children turned to each other and immediately there was a hub bub of sound and an energy with such joy as they turned and smiled and greeted each other: Peace be with you.
It was such a restorative moment. Such a moment of something important being recognised.
I love the fact that the two Liverpool Cathedrals are at opposite ends of the same street: Hope Street.
Certainly, we have stepped into this new year with hope.
Hope in the secular sense is recognised as a source of well-being. It gives us a strength that our actions matter, that we can overcome, thus motivating positive actions.
Hope in Christianity is the bed rock of faith. Hope is the birthplace of Christian self-sacrificing love.
Our children are fortunate to know the God of love. To be immersed in the love of Jesus: who doesn’t hold grudges, who doesn’t count the wrong choices but allows us to move on, who is by our side through whatever. A God of hope and possibilities.
I have been reminding the children that none of us is perfect. Some children take me up on this, proclaiming with some indignation that in fact they are perfect!
I explain that God teaches us that we are each unique and loved. That there is nothing we can do to put us outside of God’s love and as importantly there is nothing we can do to attain more of His love. He loves us because we are.
I want them to be released from the burdens of feeling that they have to be perfect. I want them to know that we can get things wrong and move forward, we can learn from this. As a school our teaching and learning approaches are all based on being prepared to have a go, to not be put off when we are stuck or get things wrong. Perfect learners can find the world a stressful place. God loves us wherever we are.
Often the Prodigal Son is remembered because he came back to say sorry and thus his father forgave him. In fact his father had forgiven him before he returned. His father prepared a feast out of his own delight at his son’s return, at the fact that he was, not because of what he had achieved or not achieved.
God’s love is a constant source of hope and strength.
We are not Mary’s Community School, we are St Mary’s Catholic school; we encourage, support and find ways for the community of St Mary’s to be a community of hope and love.
As the prophet Isaiah said; those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.
Our oldest pupils are in Eagle Class – I think that is very fitting.
This year we have furthered developed our Gift Team; the children who bring God light into our school through their actions and words. Our Year 5 leaders will be Gift Team Ambassadors and have accessed training and have been commissioned by the Bishop to this role. We are looking forward to finding ways for them and all of our Gift Team volunteers and all of our children and adults to know God’s love and to shine in his light and love.
We look forward to spending more time with our parish community this year and will hold you in our prayers.
Thank you for listening.