THE ORATORY and CHAPLAINCY - Fr. Simon Hughes
'Oratory' is the word for a building or a place where people pray. At St. Margaret's Academy the Oratory is a circular-shaped room at the centre of the whole property; we want to say that what the Oratory is about and its central location is what is at the very centre and heart of education in a Roman Catholic School. Everything revolves (at least in theory!) around the meaning of the Oratory. RE is at the centre of Roman Catholic Education and our relationship with the God Who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, underlies and permeates what Catholic Education is all about.
The Oratory at St. Margaret's Academy has undergone something of a makeover over the past year - in part thanks to the generosity of our 'feeder parishes'. It is now a very calm, open space at the centre of what is often a very bustling and noisy School community! It is always open for times of quiet and to catch one's breath in the midst of the busyness. There are few seats now in the Oratory because we want to show that this special place is not a room like any other in the School. The Blessed Sacrament is reserved here throughout the year so that God's Living and Loving Presence is at the heart of the school. Mass is celebrated there each Thursday morning at 8.15 or so as busloads of pupils arrive gradually at School. Attendance at Mass does depend on when the buses arrive in the morning and it fluctuates throughout the year depending on exam times and when S6 pupils reach the end of their time with us and start to leave. But generally there is a really good number of people (both pupils and Staff) who want to come along and participate in different ways as we celebrate the Eucharist week after week. Mass rarely, if ever, takes longer than 20 minutes ... it has to be over by the time the first bell rings and so each celebration is adapted for this and to engage with the young people as much as we can. Apart from weekly Mass the Oratory is used very regularly by the RE Team as liturgies are created throughout the year to celebrate whatever is being studied in RE and to give the young people experience of self-reflection which is vital for their growth as human beings.
I began working at St. Margaret's as the Chaplain when I arrived in Livingston in September 2016 as the Parish Priest of St. Peter's, Deans. I come in to School most days - even sometimes just for a short time - so the young people have regular contact with a 'priest'; Often it is their only contact with a member of the clergy or 'The Church' so it's very important to me personally that that experience is a positive and supportive one for them. I love coming to St. Margaret's! I love the spontaneity of young people, their questions, their insight, their willingness to share gift and skill and their generosity of spirit expressed in so many ways at St. Margaret's. It is a blessing to me to be able to support Staff, young people, and all and any who support the work of St. Margaret's School Community. It is even more wonderful when they then, as a result of this, start to re-appear in our local parishes to get involved there. Having said that, I do think of St. Margaret's Academy as a kind of 'second parish' (and it really isn't so different from a local parish community with all its challenges and colour!) and so it's really not about them coming to me or my colleagues in our local parishes but rather me reaching out to them where they are and in whatever is happening in their lives.
I'm also Chaplain to St. John Ogilvie's Primary School although I do visit the other 5 Primary Schools that 'feed into' the Academy. In particular I support the work of Primary 7 children in their transition experience. For me Chaplaincy is all about 'relationship' and I do what I can to make that good experience for all.