Intercom Magazine
Book Review

February 2024



A Guide for Primary School visitations by priests and other parish personnel
Brendan O’Reilly

Veritas Publications, 2021
9781 80097 021 2 • pp 186

Like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’. (I Peter 2:4-5)

St Peter’s remark, addressed not just to a select few but to all the community, seems to encapsulate the philosophy and spirit of Brendan O’Reilly’s meticulously researched and constructed guide for Primary School visitations by priests and other parish personnel. Acknowledging that the genesis of a lifelong Catholic education remains at the nexus of home, school and church, Bishop Leahy, in launching the Grow in Love programme in 2015, declared ‘As Christians, all of us, school, parish community and family are called to recognise that children have a right to the Good News that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is in working together at all levels that we respond to that right’. Now that the programme has become embedded in the primary school curriculum, this guide comes at an opportune time to fulfil Bishop Leahy’s vision for a holistic home/school/parish partnership.

The religious ethos of Catholic schools is based on gospel values of freedom and love and school visitation by the priests of the parish has always been part and parcel of life in Irish primary schools. Often, these were informal visits as priests and pupils were familiar to each other – children habitually served as altar servers or sang in the choir. However, the cultural map of the country has changed dramatically over the last thirty years or so and the new multicultural, more secular society has placed great demands on the school, the family and parish. In particular, a significant disconnect has arisen between home and parish as church-going numbers fall into decline.

Brendan O’Reilly’s Connecting Parish and School will prove to be an invaluable resource in helping to bridge this gap. Its stated aim is to ‘provide advice and know-how to visiting priests and other parish personnel who wish to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to primary school children’ (p. 7). As the general aim of the Grow in Love programme is ‘to help children mature in relation to their spiritual, moral and religious lives, through their encounter with, exploration and celebration of the Catholic faith’ (Irish Episcopal Conference, 2014, p. 22), the author has translated these philosophical and theological constructs into an effective, age and stage appropriate, textbook-referenced and thematic visit-by-visit plan for the visiting parish personnel. Working hand-in-hand with the school-based programme, this faith-filled and pedagogically sound handbook provides practical advice and tips to facilitate fruitful and meaningful visits with the different class groups. Outline suggestions for five visits to each class group from Infants through to Sixth class, a sample Visit Plan, a list of well-chosen resources together with a blank template that may be filled out before each visit are supplied.

Entering a primary classroom of 25-30 lively children and a presiding revered teacher may not always be such a congenial undertaking for the faint-hearted or for the uninitiated! And this is where Brendan O’Reilly’s book comes into its own; the heavy lifting has already been taken care of. Bringing the children on a journey from life to faith and back to life again in its various sections, Let’s Look, Let’s Learn, Let’s Live (Grow in Love textbook), draws pedagogically from the Shared Christian Praxis approach and this method is incorporated unobtrusively into the Visit Plan. Current, child-friendly methodologies to teach children doctrine, scripture, morality and prayer are provided and co-curricular and cross-curricular strands have been identified and are similarly utilised. Integrating some of the mainstays of modern classroom practice such as active and collaborative learning, talk, discussion and problem-solving ensure that the children are engaged in familiar learning processes. Modern educationalists contend that where children are encouraged to participate in their own learning they work with enthusiasm and it is clear that this author understands precisely how engendering a sense of wonder in the classroom fosters a desire to learn more. A consummate educator and a committed man of faith, he believes that true education awakens our full humanity including our hunger for God in a world that often denies and distracts from our innate sense of the divine. Unsurprisingly therefore, the author in Connecting Parish and School employs a range of approaches and creative processes such as play, story, visual and expressive arts, language, and ICT to deliver the faith content.

However, in creating this powerful resource to accompany the classroom visitor, O’Reilly is not totally prescriptive. He acknowledges that priests and other dedicated parish personnel don’t merely proclaim the coming of God’s kingdom; they shepherd us toward it by their own example and faith. Through their lived experience of the grace of God at work in the exigencies of daily life, they become role models for young and old alike. Unfortunately though, most parishes today experience both time and personnel challenges. Consequently, this expertly conceived yet immensely practical volume comes highly recommended to everyone, whether ordained or lay, who minister pastorally in primary schools; it is truly a tour de force which deserves full recognition as an indispensable, concise support resource for anyone involved in primary school visitation.

Reviewer: Mary Adamson
   Bryanstown, Drogheda
  Intercom, February 2024

* * *

Michael Fewer

Beehive Books, 2023
ISBN 978 1 80097 072 4, 208 pp

Tales from a Wicklow Tea Room, 1898–1960 tells the story of a tiny cottage in Glencree in the Wicklow Mountains and the tea room run there by the McGuirk family from the 1880s to the 1960s. It is about those who met and took tea at McGuirk’s during the most momentous years of Ireland’s history, and the world they inhabited. The author Micheal Fewer has written numerous books, on history, travel, architecture, and the natural world and countryside. He is a regular contributor on television and radio programmes, particularly RTÉ Radio 1’s Sunday Miscellany.

Over one of the most formative period in Irish history, the cottage became a meeting place for poets, artists, writers, scientists, politicians, lawyers and, indeed, representatives of every aspect of Irish society, including some of early-twentieth-century Ireland’s most influential people. Among the host of visitors were William Beckett, Denis Devlin, Ellen Duncan, Oliver St John Gogarty, Arthur Griffth, Hugh Lane, J.B. Malone, Constantia Maxwell, Robert Lloyd Praeger, J.M. Synge, Mervyn Wall and Ella Webb. Among ringing endorsements from Kathleen Watkins, John Quinn and others author and conservationist Éanna Ní Lamhna has praised this lavishly illustrated and creatively presented publication saying ‘Michael Fewer describes, in a most humorous and erudite way, what almost seems like a parallel universe to those who go hillwalking and climbing in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains today. A description of a totally vanished cohort of Irish society has been painstakingly constructed from sixty years of signatures.’ A delightful book to dip into and stir the imagination as well as the teacup.

Reviewer: Paul Clayton-Lea
   Intercom, February 2024