Many of you will know that we have recently appointed a new chaplain in school. The role of the chaplain is a very important one, as they underpin and are at the very core of all of the values that we speak about in our Mission Statement: Dignity; Mission; Understanding; Nurture and Discipleship. We strive, through our Faith, to help our pupils to grow as followers of Christ, not only during their time with us, but when they head off into the big wide world.
We thought that it would be a good idea to interview Maria Johnson, known as Maria to all pupils and staff, to see why she had applied to work in the very special place that is St Edmund Arrowsmith Catholic High School.
INTERVIEWERS: NIAMH ATKINSON & JOE HAYWARD – HEAD OF IMPACT & RYAN KERSHAW – HEAD OF Y10 CHAPLAINCY
INTERVIEWEE: MARIA JOHNSON – NEW CHAPLAIN
1) So Maria, what did you do before you started working at St Edmund Arrowsmith?
Well, I’m 23 years old and studied Theology at University after wanting to be a chaplain for a number of years. Prior to coming to work at St Edmund Arrowsmith, I worked at a school in Warrington called St Gregory’s as a chaplain and before that, I worked as an administrator for Matalan for nearly 7 years!
2) What made you decide to become a chaplain in the first place?
It’s very difficult for me to pinpoint one exact reason because there are so many! I’ve always had a firm faith and have been brought up in a strong practising Catholic family. I attended Catholic schools and studied Religion and Philosophy at college and then Theology at university, so my religion has always been at the forefront. However, in high school, we didn’t have access to a chaplain and I was going through a difficult time with my spiritual life. I was experiencing doubts about my faith that all Catholics experience at some point in their journeys and I didn’t feel that I had anyone that I could turn to who would relate to how I was feeling. It became apparent that I needed a chaplain; someone to guide me through my issues, concerns and doubts; someone to encourage my knowledge and nurture the seeds of my faith. That was when I first began thinking that I would like the opportunity to give to someone else what I didn’t have when I was in school.
3) You’re very young to be a school chaplain; do you think that this could have a negative effect on your role?
Not at all! I see my age as a positive thing! I’m young enough to relate to the pupils at school and understand what it is they are going through both in their spiritual and personal lives. I have the energy, connections and resources to put into the Catholic life of the school and I have a lot of enthusiasm and fresh ideas to get young people involved and inspired by their faith. On the other hand, I have studied my faith in great detail both in an educational setting and in a personal way. I am therefore confident enough to discuss matters of faith and life in an adult situation as well. I am currently studying for a diploma in Pastoral Leadership as part of Adult Faith Formation which focuses on a much more in-depth and mature way of understanding Catholic life.
4) Can you describe a typical day in the life of a chaplain?
The short answer is no! Every day is different and that is the beauty of the job! But some of the things I get up to include: leading staff and students in morning prayer in the chapel; going to and leading collective worship; planning Masses and liturgies for special events; working on ideas for the new chaplaincy blog which will be launched very soon; leading chaplaincy group meetings at break and dinner where we discuss upcoming events and charity work we are involved in; and quite often I will be found making cups of tea for those students (or staff members) who are going through a hard or sad time for whatever reason. My main role is to be a listening ear to those who need help and to guide them in the right direction for further help and encouragement if needed, and to pray for them so that they might find peace in the love of God.
5) Is there more to you than just being a chaplain?
Oh yes, in my spare time I get up to all sorts of activities. I’m a bit of a social butterfly and love spending time with my friends at the weekend. I’m big into my music and am partial to a bit of heavy metal! I can play the piano and sing (although probably not as good as I think) and I love to knit and crochet and sew like the 90-year old lady that I am deep down! I am always, always busy! If not with school or my hobbies, my parish priest keeps me on a strict schedule of parish council meetings, safeguarding officer training, charity and event organiser and youth catechist to my youth group! It’s a wonder I wake up in the mornings, I’m so exhausted! But I have a very blessed and fulfilled life and I am grateful for every part of it.