Robert O’Brien, Principal of Blanchelande College in Guernsey shares news of a new Ascension Day tradition…
Due to the reopening of our Sixth Form (after a decade of closure) and the rise in numbers of pupils that we have been blessed with (we now have 435 boys and girls), this year we have had the very pleasant problem of being unable to fit all our pupils into the school hall for celebrations of Mass. So we are having to be creative!
Our relatively new parish priest, Fr Christopher Rutledge, or one of his assistant priests (Fr Gaston and Fr Inna), now celebrate separate Masses for Primary and Secondary pupils. However, when it came to Ascension Thursday, being a holy day, we thought that, rather than having two Masses in school on the same day, we could ask parents to drop their children off at the beautiful St Joseph’s church (designed by Pugin) in St Peter Port (about 15 minutes from our school). We then planned for every year group – Reception to Sixth Form – to go off on activities for the rest of the morning. The activities included a Le Petit Train tour for the Infants, museum for the Juniors, and for the Seniors Castle Cornet and a number of historical tours of the town, relating to privateers, Victor Hugo, the Occupation and much more.
However, the feedback from the morning has shown that, enjoyable though these trips (in the rain!) were, it was the celebration of Mass that was the stand-out for many children and teachers. We had underestimated the power of gathering in a sacred space (much though we do our best in the hall), with more space for altar servers, the addition of incense, the merry organ (thank you to Luke O’Donnell for playing) and even just having proper pews and (a real novelty) kneelers!
We have a high proportion of pupils and teachers who are not Catholic, and for many of them this was their first experience of Mass in a church (and we think it is the first time the school has had Mass in a church rather than the school hall)! One group of children told me that they were excited to be able to kneel for the first time. A teacher said that they ‘got it’ for the first time. Another teacher, not a Christian, was reported to have cried at encountering the beauty of the liturgy for the first time. Well done to the students who sang, read and served with such reverence and maturity, and everyone else who participated so well.
A special word of thanks to Fr Christopher who was so incredibly welcoming, bustling about before the service to ensure that furniture was moved to ensure maximum visibility of the altar for all the pupils, especially the Infants; nothing was too much trouble and everyone appreciated his great warmth and good cheer.
For those of us who may have fallen into the routine of being Catholic Mass-goers it was an important reminder of what we have to share with others, as we strive to bring people closer to Jesus Christ through his Church. Fr Christopher has kindly invited us back next year and we look forward to it. Until then, it’s back to the hall!