St Edwards RC School, Melchet Court has recently been issued with an Apostolic Blessing from Pope Francis along with a Crucifix which was Blessed by Pope Francis himself.

Stephen Whelan, Head of Religious Studies said of the Blessing “As a Catholic School for youths who are experiencing learning difficulties associated with often complex behavioural problems, we see ourselves as potentially fulfilling an important aspect of our Church’s mission to reach out to the marginalised: marginalised by the choices they have made, or have had made for them. To receive Pope Francis’ endorsement of our work is something that fills us all with pride. It strengthens the resolve of all who work here, in often difficult circumstances”.

Head Teacher, Mr Larry Bartel was similarly happy for the staff and school and said “I was delighted to learn from Stephen that he had been inspired to seek an Apostolic Blessing from Pope Francis for our school.

Stephen articulated the challenges we face in best meeting the needs of our pupil group but his request was full of admiration at the progress many of our young people make while they are with us and for the adult group who work tirelessly to provide our pupils with the best support. Confirmation that Pope Francis has indeed held this school community in his prayers inspires us all to continue to offer our pupils the best experience of school, such that they grow into responsible, caring and compassionate adults”.

The text of the letter sent by Stephen Whelan is below:

Dear Holy Father,

I am writing to you as a teacher in a Roman Catholic School for boys with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties, where I am the Head of Religious Education.

I became a teacher at the age of 22 years: I am now 61! For those 39 years, I have worked in Roman Catholic secondary schools as a classroom teacher, Head of History, Deputy Head and, now, as the Head of RE.

I am really proud to be here. And I’d love you to understand why. Our boys do have difficulties and they can sometimes make life hard for us but, Father, there is real good in them too! They can be so compassionate and caring; looking after disadvantaged younger children on what we call ‘Rainbow Days’ – special days set aside for young children with severe learning difficulties. There are other times, too, when their more positive nature comes to the fore and we can see real and true potential in them to do good things.

In the past two weeks, many pupils responded directly to a call for help to those displaced and impoverished by recent natural disasters in Bangladesh and the Caribbean, raising £547.00. Our Governors match-funded this and we have sent a cheque to CAFOD’s World Gift Scheme to be spent on disaster relief and development.

Almost without exception, our pupils have no faith background. However, perhaps surprisingly, there is little or no hostility nor resistance to my RE classes: indeed, most are warmly receptive and can often give warm and refreshing insights into a host of problems, dilemmas and issues. My friends and colleagues on the various staff teams – teaching, care and ancillary – are among some of the finest people I have worked with and are evidently devoted to promoting the causes of our boys.

It can be very easy and convenient to be cynical about young people but I believe with all my heart that, as you have written, every human being is imbued with divine potential, that in every person there is a patch of fertile ground in which the Spirit can bring a young person’s potential to fruition. We commit ourselves to that task daily but, as with all educators, we sometimes grow weary.

Holy Father, I am asking for your Apostolic Blessing on the endeavours of our staff and pupils. I believe it would mean so much for all of them to know that you, as the leader of our faith,  are aware of what we are trying to do: that you have had our community in your thoughts and especially your prayers and that you have given your Blessing to the pupils, staff, governors and friends of St Edward’s School. Your support will empower our boys to go out into a world that does not always respect gentleness and compassion: to find in themselves the strength to embody some of the values we have tried to nurture in them. With God’s help, we pray that the seeds of faith are planted and that they can transform their lives.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this.

This letter comes with warmest regards and our very best wishes,

Stephen Whelan, Head of Religious Education