Jan 7, 2015

Celebration to mark Extension, Refurbishment and Redevelopment of St. Munchin’s College

Celebration to mark Extension, Refurbishment and Redevelopment of St. Munchin’s College

3 January, 2015


Today is a great occasion. Former and present staff and students, as well as Trustees and members of the Board of Management, parents and others associated with the college are coming together in our alma mater to celebrate the Extension, Refurbishment and Redevelopment of this, the oldest college in Limerick. And we are doing so on the Feastday of Saint Munchin, patron saint of the Diocese whose name is associated with the college for now over 200 years. I am very grateful to the Minister for Education and Skills, Ms. Jan O’Sullivan TD for honouring us with her attendance among us as well as other dignitaries here present.

Homily Notes

A few years ago, someone searching for a house commented to me, “you know, a house has a vocation”. The remark struck me. In other words, when we look for a house, it’s not that any old house will do. A house has a calling; it’s meant for a purpose. This applies to buildings in general and also therefore to a school. Buildings create living conditions for their inhabitants to feel at home or work in. They shape so much of a person’s personal upbringing or work experience. The actual building with its external quality and design, its internal shapes and sizes, its colours and layout, its décor and harmony, makes a difference to what goes on in that building. And that’s true for this college. It’s what we are celebrating today.

It is fitting that we are marking the extension, redevelopment and refurbishment of the college within the Christmas season and on the feastday of St. Munchin because when we think about it, Christianity gives us many reasons to be attentive to our buildings. In a way Christians too have their version of the Chinese “Feng shui”! After all, ours is a religion of the incarnation, the Word of God becoming flesh, becoming history, living among us, taking up residence on earth. This is what we celebrate at Christmas.

Already in the Old Testament, the notion of building a house worthy of God was one of the big themes. Then with the coming of Jesus, John the Evangelist describes the Incarnation as God pitching his tent among us – in other words it is from that temporary building of Jesus in his earthly existence that God’s message would go out. We know that Jesus himself, called ‘teacher’ on forty-six occasions in the gospels, though wandering all through Galilea and Judea, seems to have made the house of Peter at Capernaum a centre for his teaching mission. And he spoke of the church as the spiritual building made up of living stones where he would present. Indeed this college’s motto “truth in charity” is taken from the letter to the Ephesians that we heard today and notice the context is about building up the body of Christ. For its part, the Book of Revelation concludes the story recounted in the Bible by indicating the final goal of history as God “dwelling” among us. So, if Christians really take God’s word seriously and recognise their dignity, then they will also concerned about their buildings. Our structures are to be places that house Jesus who promises to be present wherever two or more are gathered in his name through their love for one another.

In one way or another, maybe not always as explicitly as might be the case, buildings have always been important for Christians. Think of the monasteries. Some of you may have seen the documentary on St. Mel’s Cathedral in Longford that was rebuilt recently. It was moving to see how much the building meant to people and how much it was a centre of art and culture, vision and hope. A college carrying the name of St. Munchin, and so rooted way back in the Christian tradition, does well to be attentive to its buildings and environment. It’s a real need of the incarnational Christian ethos that motivates the school. Christian faith isn’t a purely private interior matter. It is not to be relegated simply to the inner sanctum or to the realm of abstract ideas that we study. It is about the transformation of our whole lives and that includes how we live, how we dress, how we organise our lives, our studies, our music, our sport. And how we house ourselves.

This simple ceremony today, therefore, is significant. It’s one of those moments when we touch in again to the passion and vital energy that provides the impetus to setting up the school in the first place. Centuries of practical administrative responsibilities have kept it going. The college has a long history that has seen many new initiatives and achievements in its building environment. And we cannot but be extremely grateful for all former generations that gave their contribution. But today is a new chance for us to reflect again on the vision that touches even the way we view the building that frames the college life. As we reflect on the building project and thank God for all the work that has gone into it – the funding by the Department of Education, the architects, builders and so many others, not least the school staff and students, we can hear in today’s ceremony a new invitation to recognise the importance of the building environment because it facilitates our appropriation of the values and tradition that inspire the college.

Recently, the Catholic Schools Partnership has published a wonderful document on Catholic Education at Second Level. I enjoyed reading it and it prompted me to think of a few points that I would like now to conclude with, points that could be like a checklist as we go forward in making sure our beautifully refurbished building is fulfilling its vocation.

Firstly, the college building is an environment that is to reflect our belief that the work of Jesus the teacher continues here.

Secondly, in this building we should be able to see expressed something of the living tradition that stretches right back through the many centuries of Christianity in Ireland and more specifically the tradition of over two hundred years of this college’s Christian teaching mission here in Limerick.

Thirdly, our college should be a place where we see that faith and reason, belief and culture, are respected as co-essential components of all true learning. And that also means the school building, in its art and lay out, is to provide a living space that fosters the integration of religious education, catechesis, cultural formation and daily life in the college.

Fourthly, given the college was located here in Corbally around the same time as the Second Vatican Council, it is good for the college to have that “feel” about it. And one particular dimension today in catholic schools after Vatican II is education to intercultural dialogue. A school should never be a ghetto. That’s why it’s good to shape the building also in terms of the collaboration between home, school and parish/ community and, more generally, the outreach to culture in the broader sense.

In this Mass, therefore, we can be thankful for all that has gone into the refurbishment and redevelopment. We can be thankful for all who, echoing today’s Gospel, entered the doors of this college. And we can express now our hope that those who will enter this building, noticing the life of all who study and work here, and observing the way the college building is arranged and kept, will recognise this place is special; it’s a building that has a vocation and that it’s fulfilling its vocation.