Chaplaincy on the Emmaus road: Lay chaplains in Catholic schools

Diana Polisano, Chair of the Association of Catholic Chaplains in Education, explores the contribution and the potential of ­chaplaincy in Catholic schools.

School Chaplaincy is a ministry that has developed over many years since initially being the domain of clergy and Religious. The affirmation of the role of the laity and lay ministry in texts such as Christifideles laici (1988) and The Sign We Give (1995) came at a crucial time for Catholic Education in Britain. Various models of collaborative ministry were being explored as more and more demands were being made on fewer priests and thus chaplaincy in schools changed from being a mainly clerical model to a lay one, with a full-time priest chaplain becoming a rarity. This is the situation today in most voluntary-aided schools and Multi-Academy Trusts, although slightly less so in the independent sector.

The Association of Catholic Chaplains in Education (ACCE) was formed in 1993 with the aim of providing a network for those Chaplains working within the Catholic education sector. It produced, with the support of the Bishops’ Conference, Chaplaincy: The Change and the Challenge – the first document to address the very practical issues of job description, appointment and induction, training and other issues relating to the role of the chaplain in a Catholic school. As such it was the first professional handbook for chaplains, school leadership teams and governors.

Theological models of Chaplaincy
The most often used theological model for chaplaincy is that of the story of the two disciples meeting Christ on the road to Emmaus, but the description of Jesus and his visit to the house of Martha and Mary, surprisingly perhaps, does illustrate some basic and important characteristics of chaplaincy.

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