The many good works and the selfless nature of St Vincent de Paul are at the heart of St Vincent’s Castleknock College. As a Vincentian School, an integral element of the college student development is the work done in the community.
The Vincent de Paul Society was founded by Frederick Oznam, a young student at the Sorbonne University in Paris. He was a journalist and was renowned for his debating skills. He wrote a great deal about justice and the social teachings of the church. One day during a debate a lecturer observed that Oznam had lots of wonderful words about justice and faith, but seemed very short on actions. This comment stung Frederick, but challenged him to consider how he might put his faith into action. A Daughter of Charity, Sr. Rosalie Rendu DC brought Frederick and his friends into the slums of Paris (some of the worst in Europe at that time). He was shocked by what he witnessed and from that encounter he and his companions set about responding to the desperate needs of these people, especially those affected by a Cholera epidemic which had gripped the city and nation with fear. They formed the Society after St. Vincent de Paul (named after the saint as he wanted a patron whose own life reflected the sort of ideals and values he wanted the members to imitate).
Charitable and community work undertaken by the school community is organised through the two student conferences of the SVP; The Fr John Doyle Conference (TY) and the Fifth Year Conference which meet once a week during term.
Each year the SVP society organises a group of TY students who visit the resident women at St Louise’s (Daughters of Charity) Clonsilla. The boys help prepare a quarterly newsletter for the centre, bake cakes, play cards and socialise with the ladies, who get great joy from their visits.
St. Vincent’s School Immersion Program
In 2009 the first group of students from St. Vincent’s travelled to the town of Ambo in Ethiopia to participate in the School’s Immersion program. They returned with a desire to support the education of Deaf children in the town. The idea was simply to raise enough funds to provide the children with house rent, uniforms, copybooks, pens etc. It was never envisaged that this little initiative would lead to the establishment of the first Catholic Deaf School in Ethiopia (The school is multi-denominational and respects the faith traditions of all its students). The establishment of the school mirrors a significant moment in the history of the College when 153 years previously Fr. Thomas McNamara left St. Vincent’s Castleknock and moved to St. Peter’s in Phibsborough from where he established the first Catholic Deaf School in Ireland (St. Mary’s Cabra). The Ambo Lazarist Deaf School opened in 2012 with 7 students. Since then it has rapidly expanded and today offers 70 Deaf children from rural villages surrounding Ambo access to education. Without the school, these children would live very isolated and lonely lives as they are often perceived as incapable of learning and excluded from their local schools.
The schools immersion program is run in conjunction with VLM who interview the boys, arrange the pre-planning, organise flights and insurance. Since 2008 over 100 students and staff have travelled to Ambo to help run the summer program. Over 200 local children throng to the Vincentian Compound eager to participate and try to improve their spoken English and learn some maths.
During the summer program the Students: teach maths and sports at the Deaf school (after they have received some lessons in Ethiopian Sign Language), teach at the KG school which has 250 children, compete in the annual Ambo/Knock football tournament, visit the social housing project, including the Leprosy project which were all built by the Vincentians. Some have even attended weddings and funerals, which is a unique cultural experience.
Their presence in the village brings a great joy and excitement to the local children all of whom receive copybooks and pencils brought by the boys in their suitcases. Some of the children hide these away until they return to school in Sept. Unfortunately, the immersion program has been interrupted due to some political instability and of course the Covid crisis. However, as our sister school, St. Vincent’s is committed to supporting this wonderful project and helping to ensure many more rural deaf children gain access to education.