The Joint Trustee Chaplains Conference

The joint Trustee Chaplains conference took place in Castletown retreat centre on Thursday November 16th 2023, from 9am to 3:30pm. Organized and led jointly by the equivalent Ethos and Faith development officers from the joint trusts of Le Cheile, Loretto, Dublin Diocese and ourselves.

Inputs included:
• Addressing Transgender issues in Schools as Chaplain – Vivek da Silva, Assistant Professor of RE in DCU & Marino Institute
• Self-Care for Chaplains – Fr Bryan Shorthall, Capuchin
• Student anxiety, suicidal ideation, self-harm, mental health – Gráinne Finnegan -Tulsa Child & Family Support Network, Tackle your Fears Programme.
• Embedding the Chaplaincy Team in the student’s leadership in school, and the role of the Chaplain – Ellen Moiselle, Chaplain from Holy Child Killiney

There was also a round table discussion & Feedback focusing on –

  1. How do you understand your role as Chaplain? How do others understand your role?
  2. What are the issues for you as a Chaplain?
  3. Sharing of ideas – what works, resources, etc
  4. How can the Trust help/support more?

The day finished with a group meditation led by Deirdre Ni Shuibhne, chaplain from Holy Child CS Sallynoggin.

There were around 70 attendees on the day with 9 of our chaplains and myself representing SET.

We are in the process of correlating the feedback from the round table discussion but just to give a flavour in response to the above questions.

The chaplains see their role as:
Critical incident/care team/support team/1st response/Crisis/Flexible, Invitational yet aspirational, Upholding and promoting school ethos. Support students/ staff and parents on their faith journey of all faiths and none. It is a role of travelling with the school community and meeting them where they are at. Being a visible presence of what they represent – being a Christ presence practically, liturgically, pastorally, and sacramentally, …
They felt that often there was a difference in how others (especially within the school structure) see or understand their role – The chaplain seen as a student support rather than a faith presence and that ‘No timetable does not mean I am free’ – There are huge expectations on Chaplain to do… resulting in being pulled in too many directions!

This led to the issues which include – a lack of clarity/support/understanding of the role and never enough time. Supports from management are variable. There is general pressure around secularism, the struggle/disconnect between religion and faith. As well as the limiting of religious education time and juggling teaching hours. Ambiguity around well-being and the understanding of the chaplaincy role along with unstructured pastoral/support frameworks and referral pathways. The fast-changing culture, scandals & disconnect with the ‘language of faith’ are also issues….

As well as a number of mentioned practical resources – What works, resources etc. that have been helpful include – Networking and sharing with other chaplains, developing Faith team/Ember team/Chaplaincy team. Availability and time for self-retreats and CPD, ‘Presenting to staff on my role at staff meeting’, Supportive RE team/management/year heads. Involvement in and development of a local chaplain’s cluster. Availability of pastoral supervision and being included as an active member of the care team…

Lastly, a few of the suggestions on how the Trust could help/support more – Promote Chaplaincy (clarity on the understanding, role and responsibilities with the principals, deputy principal and Board of Management). Acknowledging the work/role of the Chaplain. Facilitate connections, retreats, support, supervision for chaplains. Creating a central repository of liturgical, etc. resources. Share what schools have actually done in terms of current issues – transgender, mental health, etc.

It was a very challenging day with lots of peer-to-peer support, sharing of experience/resources, and networking opportunities. Feedback on the day from both the attendees and those giving inputs was extremely positive. An online evaluation/review form has been distributed to all involved to help us with planning for next year.

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