My name is Cleo Gammon and I am Chaplain for the Ursuline Academy Ilford. I work four days a week and I am based in the Chapel. You might recognise my name because I was chaplain here three years ago, but “once an Ursuline, always an Ursuline” and so I am very pleased to be back with the family.
Some people think that a Chaplain is a Priest or a Nun and that can be true, but there are many who, like me, are committed Christians who work as Lay Chaplains in Schools. We keep in close contact with our local Priests and share news and information through the School newsletters and website.
Everything we do stems from our Christian faith. It is my job to help that faith to find its place in all areas of School life. All of the adults in the school support the pupils in their spiritual growth, and it is my job to support them in doing this. We welcome pupils and staff of all faiths into our community, embracing them and the way they enrich our school/community.
Chaplaincy has been an active part of school life since September 2010 and is constantly being developed to ensure that the Catholic ethos permeates the whole school community.
To be a lay chaplain is not to do everything vaguely related with being Catholic, as this is just not possible, nor is it to force feed the Catholicity of the school to the school community, but to be a catalyst between the richness of our faith and the school community. This would not be possible without the willingness and support of our local priests in the Deanery of Redbridge who take the time to celebrate the Mass at major school feasts and Holy Days, as well as offer the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation to every student in the school at least twice a year. Whilst I have a special relationship with the RE department I aim to work with each department to enhance and develop the Catholic spirituality of the school.
The Chaplaincy at Ursuline Academy Ilford plays an integral part in the spiritual development plan by coordinating;
- The sacramental life of the school community
- An annual retreat program for students in each year group
- Running groups and clubs that enable students to engage and deepen their faith
- Enabling students to go on pilgrimages, trips and events organised by BCYS
- Being available to students and staff in need of support or a listening ear
- Encouraging the enterprise of individuals and groups who want to support worthwhile charities
- And so much more!
Faith is very important in our school; it stands at the centre of everything we are striving to achieve. Chaplaincy, working alongside the RE Department, has a strong programme of retreats, events and clubs designed to encourage students to develop their spirituality and deepen their relationship with God.
Year 7 have a day retreat onsite in the chapel with the chaplain at the beginning of the year. This is aimed to help the students get used to being a part of the Ursuline community. It enables them to have fun, bond and deepen their faith as a class.
Some years we have also taken the girls away and led a retreat for them at the end of the year at Aylesford Priory in Kent. This gives them a chance to reflect on their spirituality and how God has helped them in their lives in their first year at Ursuline Academy.
Years 8 and 9 and 10 go to the Diocesan retreat centre, Walsingham House. These are class based, day retreats and are facilitated by an enthusiastic and dedicated diocesan team. They cover a variety of spiritual themes and are very relevant to where the students are ‘at’ at that moment in their lives.
Year 9 also get the opportunity, as a whole year group, to attend an event for year 9 students across Brentwood and Southwark Diocese at Aylesford Priory in June/July. This is an amazing opportunity for them to mingle with other students and share faith stories as well as have fun. The day is filled with drama, music, art and discussion activities. They also participate in retreat mornings run by volunteers from CAFOD (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development). A class at a time go to the chapel to reflect and discuss current issues as well as learning about climate change and the importance of looking after our earth from Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si”.
This year at Ursuline Academy Ilford we ran an “In House” retreat morning for Year 11. We feel that it is a difficult year to take students away from their GCSE studies and so a half day retreat in school is more fitting.
“Personally, I felt that the retreat was a useful experience that allowed me to have some spiritual peace. It offered a great opportunity to not only take a break from school life, but also take time to interconnect faith back into learning. It helped me to reflect on how I want my relationship with God to be and how I could improve it, especially during this hectic time in my life. It further provided me with a variety of new techniques I can implement into my life even if I am busy. All in all, I’d have to say that the day gave me more insight into my position in faith and how I can balance faith into my everyday life without neglecting either”. Maame-Yaa – 11.2
“The retreat was very useful because during this stressful time of exams and revision we had time to reflect and relax which helped calm me down. It also made me think about the important things in life and how lucky I am. Some parts were fun and others refreshing and revitalising”. Year 11 student
“The retreat morning was a surprise! I felt really uplifted and refreshed. We engaged in a number of activities, some in the chapel, which included a number of prayer stations. It opened my mind to gain a deeper understanding of the prodigal son and our need to always remember that God is there for us”. Rebecca Fernandez – 11.2