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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

Mass of Thanksgiving 1955-2016- Salesian Secondary School, Fernbank, Limerick

I welcome the students and families, past-pupils, former staff and the wider community of Salesian Secondary School, Fernbank.

From the Gospel we see that Jesus must be happy with us here today because we have chosen to say “thanks” - thanks for all that has gone on in this great school since 1955 until this year – thanks for other students, teachers, staff, the Salesian sisters – and in particular we thank the sisters past and present, thanks for those here with us, those who can’t be with us and those who have died; thanks for all who were impacted in any way by the warm glow of this college. Thanks for the Salesian ideal of education is the development of the whole person in reaching spiritual, academic, social and physical potential. Thanks.

Yes, of course, our thanks is said also with a certain sadness because our thanks is also a “so long, farewell my friend”. But let’s decide today that our best thanks will be to decide to keep the story of this great school alive, a story that is rooted in the dream of Don Bosco.

As you probably know much better than I do, when he was nine years John Bosco dreamt that he was near his home, in a very large playing field where a crowd of children was having fun. He was shocked at their cursing and tried to stop them swinging wildly at them. Suddenly a man (Jesus) appeared who called him by name and told him to become a leader to these young people adding “you will have to win these friends of yours, not with blows but with gentleness and kindness. So begin right now to show them that sin is ugly and virtue beautiful”. At that moment the fight, shouting and cursing stopped. To John Bosco’s doubts, the Man replied: “I will give you a teacher”. At that point, Our Lady also appeared to him in the dream.

It was an early dream but many elements of the schools the Salesians went on to establish were found there. And your school crest summarises them:

a heart of compassion, gentleness and love;

a star of light – Jesus Christ to guide and

an anchor, Mary help of Christians, Jesus’ mother who promises to be with us always. We might forget her presence, but she never forgets us – do we not say to her every day: “pray for us, now”.

On this day when we might be a little sad, let’s remember one feature of Don Bosco that people noted – he was cheerful. He said “here at the oratory we make holiness consistent in being very cheerful”. He often used to say, “let nothing upset you! Be cheerful!”. He believed all things, hoped all things, endured all things (1 Cor 13:7). He tried to see the positive.

While we are saying something of a “goodbye” to this school, it’s not the end of the school. Its story will continue in the new Thomand Community College.

Recently, I was thinking about an image from science. I’m not a scientists but we can learn a lot from science. In science we learn from chemistry that a mixture is a system made up of two or more different substances which are mixed but are not combined chemically. A combination is a chemical reaction of two or more compounds forming a new compound, something new that is not a mixture of two or more elements but elements transformed into something new.

That is what is now ahead of this school. The Salesian story will not just be an element of a new school. Its story, its ethos, its life will permeate the whole of the new school because the new school will be new but in a way that the Salesian ideal of education will shine right throughout the school. That is our hope today.

John Bosco knew about change in his life. How often in life he had to move into new circumstances. He was born into humble circumstances but was called to set up the Salesians by binding some of the other men together into a new order by a common pact among them. He knew moments of illness when he could do very little. There were assassination attempts on his life. He had to overcome obstacles both in the Church and from civil authorities. But it wasn’t so much the “what” happened in his life as the “how” Don Bosco lived all of this that made him a saint.

That’s how it has to be with us today too. In one of his memoirs John Bosco wrote: “If you are to do good, you must have a little courage, be ready for sacrifice, deal affably with all and never slight anybody. By following this method I have always had significant success, in fact, marvellous success”.

So, as we give thanks, we remember the heart, the star and the anchor. We decided to entrust our story to God’s mercy and move forward into a new story – the one that God whose imagination is always greater than ours, can create. In moving forward we remember we bring our story with us into the new combination that God will form. If we entrust it to him, he can do more than we could ever imagine.