A conversation with Ann Cooke, Catering Manager at Clongowes Wood College. Ann is reflecting on the Fifth Characteristic of Jesuit Education: Artisans of a New Humanity – Faith That Does Justice…
The idea of inspiring the boys to be ‘a man for others’ is very important to me in my life. The students get the opportunity to work outside the school with others, and it’s brilliant how they do it. Even if there is a discipline issue, it is made a learning opportunity, as it is built around showing them a better way to do things – making better choices. Discipline is always about doing things for others. The Head of Boarding will always tell the boys to ‘bring the Lord with you’ and not just have him up on the cross. The staff leads by example. The Jesuits here give an amazing example to the boys. The Prayer of St. Ignatius is all around the place and that prayer really inspires people. Even if you don’t feel like doing something, that prayer makes you go back and get on with it! It inspires on a daily basis.
People here are treated exceptionally well, it is a great environment. I worked for many years in the catering business and in hotels at a senior level, and here it’s so different; it’s much more personal, a much better work environment. The Jesuit Order treats workers well; there is a danger that people don’t appreciate this. They treat you like family. Like anywhere else, everyone has their day to day work and you can have a bad day. Everyone greets you and so it is not hard to be cheerful, it lifts you and we help each other in this way. The boys are so genuinely nice; I find that I have a much better appreciation of young people, through working here.
Care of the person
The boys love to come back to the school after the breaks. I think that the boys are very well supported by the care structure, the prefects the year heads, they don’t just stay in their offices, and they are out mingling with the boys. The care of the person here is a very strong value. When the first years arrive, they place close attention to the new boys – that they are eating – as there can be a period of adjustment and the staff is very mindful of that.
Things are done in a quiet way, without a big drama; it is run like their home. The Jesuit way is quite low key. There is a danger that the students here would just take advantage of all that they are given and develop a sense of entitlement. Many people coming here have their roots of Christian belief and spirituality and here those roots can find soil; it feels like coming home – God is in your life. The other day passing the petrol station I saw a lady trip and a few of our boys were nearby and they immediately ran to help. Some other boys nearby jeered them, but I could not but be struck by their reaction, it is part of what they are, to be concerned for others.
The faith thing
The day starts with Morning Prayer and there is a sense of God. I led it recently, and I gave them a little lesson on how the church back in time had to be prepared to fight for it – I knew the idea of fighting would catch the boy’s attention! The faith thing is more personal here. At boarding school ours was more routine, more of a ritual. Here at night-time if you pop into the chapel there are boys there – and not always ones you would expect to see! When one of the Jesuit community died there was a vigil here, and the boys were able to stay and pay their respects to him. The retreats each year can be an amazing experience for the boys; it helps them to share and to bond, and sometimes to get to know the boys from other classes.
I think that they are offered a chance to see the Joy in Faith; it is not all about the death on the cross. If someone has stepped out of line they try to show them that what was done was not in line with being a ‘man for others’ and the correction will develop a sense of responsibility. They are treated like young men; they are taught that if they have been blessed with opportunity, then they also have added responsibility.
The staff and Jesuits work very hard to deliver the quality of care that the boys experience. This is not easy; it takes constant effort and long hours to do what is being done here. Hard work is appreciated and this is very much appreciated. The only danger is that you could be a workaholic! Behind the scenes, they are running meals on wheels, and they look after each other. I would put kindness in the care of others very high on the list. I think that this gives the boys a good sense of how being a ‘person for others’ can be done in small ways.