Education people: The teacher in a First Holy Communion class
Pauline Kearney teaches second class in the Presentation Primary School, Terenure. This is her fourth year of Communion preparation
Bless me father: Teacher Pauline Kearney with Emilie McSherry (8) in second class at Presentation National School, Terenure, Dublin, practising the confessional. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
‘One Direction are playing a concert on the same night as our Communion day. That’s a cause to celebrate. I think some children are going to the concert instead of having a party on the day.
“There’s no denying but that the Communion day is exciting. I suppose the dresses, the hair, the parties afterwards, all add to that. By its nature, First Holy Communion is always overdone a bit. I wouldn’t be a lover of the white dresses and tiaras but that’s just my opinion.
“There is a perception, that if you’re teaching a Communion class, it means the Communion is a backdrop to the whole year. That’s not really the case anymore.
“When I taught the Communion class 20 years ago (that was back when they still made it in first class) there was much more of a focus. Back then, as a teacher, you were responsible for all the preparation, so it really was a much bigger thing.
“The big difference nowadays is that the parish has taken over much of the preparation with the Do This in Memory programme.
“I teach the Alive O religion programme which feeds into the preparation for the First Penance and the First Holy Communion but the other preparation has been taken out of my hands. I’m very happy about that. It has taken a lot of the pressure off me.
“The Do This in Memory programme is run in the parish and it involves parents and children. There are 10 assigned masses and a booklet and exercises that familiarise children with the mass. The 10 masses are very child centred. I think it’s a very good idea.
“It’s interesting. There’s no denying that religion simply isn’t as much a part of life as it was, but you couldn’t make a blanket statement about it.
“Some children are quite unfamiliar with the rituals and even the vocabulary surrounding religion and mass. Others are very well versed. There is certainly a willingness to engage with it all.
That said, I’m not sure about First Penance. I think that the monthly confessions where you were brought to church are a thing of the past. There’s a possibility that First Penance is also last penance, at least until Confirmation time. It is a lovely ceremony though, much more low-key and all the parents make an effort to attend.
One of the challenges of course is the fact that inevitably these days, there are children in the class who are not Catholic and therefore don’t make their Communion. This year, we have 64 children making Communion and eight or nine who aren’t. I have a child who is a Buddhist and one who is Muslim in my class this year. I encourage them to talk about their beliefs. We talk about Communion as a celebration and they tell us about their celebrations.
It helps that a lot of the work in religion class is ecumenical rather than Catholic. There is very little in the way of Catholic specific-teaching so it creates less of an issue than you might think.