The role of Christian faith in the lives of a cohort of Catholic primary school principals in the Republic of Ireland
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Principals, as ‘gatekeepers’ in Catholic primary schools (CPSs), are at the nexus of change in relation to faith and culture. These changes include a political impetus for a more diverse patronage system for primary schools, new admission policies and changes to Religious Education. The Church also acknowledges the more diverse, plural and secular nature of Irish society and the need for change. Within this context, this study aims to discover the role of Christian faith in the lives of a cohort of CPS principals. This hermeneutic phenomenological research study involved interviewing eighteen principals in order to gather descriptions and interpretations of their lived experiences. It found that faith is an integral part of most of the principals’ lives; sixteen are believers and two are agnostic. The believers embody their faith in their heads as beliefs and theological understanding, in their hearts as spiritual and religious practices and in their hands as moral outlooks and behaviour. Their experiences of nature, birth, death and suffering are intertwined with their faith. The Catholic school subculture and their Catholic upbringing were found to have influenced their faith but the Church scandals have affected them and most do not talk about their faith today. Most perceive principalship as a vocation even though there is ambiguity around the word. For most, faith influences their principalship, how they cope with challenges and conflict and their leadership styles. While they all uphold the Catholic school ethos, the believers actively promote the Catholic ethos. Ten principals prefer to work for Catholic school patrons and eight are willing to change patron. Moreover, the principals all seem to be immersed in the mystery of God as they wonder about Him and want to have faith. The study contributes to the conversation about the way forward for the CPS sector and the recommendations are of interest to policy makers, patrons, professional developers and practitioners within the sector.
Catholic primary schools
Catholic school ethos