Tuesday 21 May 2019

Anne is made a 'Dame Commander'

Vatican recognises former Swords school principal's great service to education

Ken Phelan

A former school principal from Swords has been recognised by the Vatican for her 'trojan work in education' after she was made a 'Dame Commander' of the Order of St. Gregory the Great.

One accusation often levelled against the Catholic Church is in the exclusion of women, denigration to a seemingly insignificant role within the Church itself. In what is an exclusively patriarchal organisation, women have unfortunately taken second place.

One Swords woman, however, has defied previously held norms within the Church hierarchy, paving the way perhaps to a more open, inclusive form of Church, where women are valued for their contribution.

Anne McDonagh was earlier this year conferred with the Papal award of 'Dame Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great' for her 'Trojan work in education in a time of change.'

The investiture was carried out by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in St. Colmcille's Girls National School in Swords, where Anne herself had attended.

Previously Principal of St. Colmcille's for 26 years and Director of Education in the Archdiocese of Dublin for 10 years, Anne has been honoured in recognition of her contribution to Catholic education and her work in the Dublin Archdiocese.

Speaking to The Fingal Independent, Anne expressed her sense of joy in being awarded the title, which recognised the years of hard work she had carried out in her role in education, saying: 'I was very surprised; I had heard about it before, but I was very surprised and taken aback when I got the phone call. The Archbishop rang me and said the Pope had been talking about me the day before, and I couldn't believe it.

'I was absolutely delighted and honoured to get it. I felt it was an honour not just for me, but for all the people who had been associated with me in my career. I was associated with a lot of people and a lot of people helped me. After the award, I heard from people I hadn't heard from in a long time, so it was a great honour to share it with them.'

In 2005, Anne started work with the Archbishop in the diocesan centre on Clonliffe Road, with all the attendant problems and issues that came with the role. Now living in Malahide, Anne spoke of some of the work she had done there, and in education over her career: 'I was Director of Education in the Archdiocese of Dublin for 10 years, looking after primary, post-primary and third level education, so it was really looking after the Archbishop's responsibilities, where he was looking after 470 primary schools and 200 post-primary schools, and third level institutions as well.

'It meant appointing boards of management to those schools, teachers had to be trained, principals had to be appointed... I did that, and any issues that arose around that. I'm still involved in education, and do different things around the country. I'm also Director on the board of CEIST and Educena.'

The award was undoubtedly an achievement in what is a male-dominated organisation; Anne explained her own feelings on the role of women in the Church: 'I think women's roles in the Church is reflected in women's roles in the rest of the world, that in some ways it has improved, but in some ways it has a long, long way to come. I think that if you look at the Church, you have to look at the hierarchy, and look at the gospel, and there's quite a difference between the two.'

Speaking of her own faith, Anne said: 'I have strong faith, I wouldn't describe myself as religious, but I would say I would have good faith. I'm a practising Catholic, and certainly I would understand what the gospels say, and that's what I would try do is to live my life by the gospel.'

The only privilege that the award of 'Dame Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great' carries with it, other than the title itself, a medal and the uniform (a cape for Dames) is the right to ride a horse through St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, though Anne says she is not quite sure she will be taking advantage of that privilege any time soon.

Fingal Independent