Brothers to Quit Schools after Two Centuries
Irish Independent, June 09 2006 by John Walshe
THE Christian Brothers are planning to end two centuries of direct involvement in primary and secondary education in Ireland.
They are finalising arrangements to hand over 29 primary and 109 secondary schools to a charitable trust run entirely by lay people.
The setting up of the Edmund Rice Schools Trust (ERST) represents one of the most significant changes in Irish education for decades.
In future, the role of the Brothers will be confined largely to an education office and the provision of back-up education services to schools.
A charter outlining the education and religious philosophy of ERST schools will be launched in September. The schools will operate in the tradition of Edmund Rice who founded the Brothers in 1802. Principles of spiritual development, equality and social justice will be strongly emphasised.
Although their reputation has been damaged in recent years by allegations and proven cases of abuse, educational historians point to their proud tradition of bringing education to generations who would otherwise not have gone past primary school.
Dr Daire Keogh, St Patrick's College of Education, Drumcondra, who is writing a history of the Brothers, says they made an immense contribution to the development of this country long before the introduction of free education. "I think history will be kinder to them," he says.
The original intention was that the schools run by the Presentation Brothers - a congregation also established by Edmund Rice - would come under ERST.
But the Irish Independent learned that, at its chapter meeting last year, the Presentation Brothers decided to stay on their own.
It is understood the Presentation Brothers felt the timing was not right and their distinctive ethos would be lost in the ERST.
A project team has been working on the preparation for ERST for some time.
Sources insisted last night that its establishment has nothing to do with the current abuse allegations. They say the necessity for change was largely driven by the decline in the number of Christian Brothers and the ageing profile of those remaining.
It was also prompted by the realisation that it will be up to the laity to retain the Catholic ethos of the schools in the future.
Over the past few years virtually all the principals appointed to CB schools have been lay teachers and the Brothers had confined their role to trusteeship of individual schools.
But now even that is about to change with the establishment of ERST. It will be set up as both a civil legal entity and a canonical Church foundation. The foundation must have its statutes approved by the Bishops who will then set it up by formal decree.