Carrying Faith into the future
Nicole O’Leary describes how students in Portlaoise benefit from the John Paul II Awards

Students from Portlaoise Parish who received their JP II awards from Bishop Denis Nulty.

Nicole O’Leary

As part of being a CEIST school, 5th and 6th year students from Scoil Chríost Rí, Portlaoise, participate in the John Paul II awards annually. Girls in our school from all walks of faith come together to rejoice and actively participate in their religion.The Pope John Paul II Award was created to commemorate St John Paul II, who was committed to young people believing that they had the spirit to carry faith into the 21st century. 

The Pope John Paul II Award allows students all over Ireland an opportunity to take their own faith into their own hands. It enables participants to have an active part in the life of their Church community. The programme encourages independent learning about the Catholic Church and how we as young people can engage with Christ upon a deeper level. 

The John Paul II Award enhances vital skills for students which they can bring forth into their later lives.  


The award is committed to helping young people enhance their spiritual, physical, emotional and social development through participation in school, parish and community activities. 

As well as the feeling of personal achievement that a participant will gain from taking part in the award, participation will help to show future employers and educators that an award participant demonstrates they can make an on-going commitment to a task and goal. 

The award is for anyone between the age of 16 and 18. Luckily we have a parish and people who are willing to help us with completing our awards. There are three award levels: Bronze, Silver and Gold. Those who have completed the Gold award may then complete the Papal award if they wish.

Miss Byrne, a religion teacher in Scoil Chríost Rí, decided to use the pre-existing model of a ‘Pray and Play’ group in Portlaoise’s St Peter’s and Paul’s Church and combine the award requirements with it to enhance the experience for the participants. 

This programme was developed in order to allow younger members of the Church community to engage with the Gospel message at an age appropriate level while Mass proceeds. It consisted of inviting children aged four to seven out of 11.15am Sunday Mass to participate in other religious activities. Some of my group’s favourite moments included acting out Noah’s ark where all the children pretend to be an animal, constructing their own Advent wreaths to recognise the birth of Jesus at Christmas and throwing of Palms down on the ground before our ‘little’ Jesus and donkey. 

One Award leader, Rosemary Cushion – currently in 6th year – says: “My experience of Pray and Play has been incredibly positive.  For quite a few people my age, religion isn’t seen as a substantial part of people’s lives anymore.  

As society becomes more and more secular I begin to ask myself as a young person if our souls are becoming secular. 

“I was raised in a family where religion was highly regarded, but it never seemed like a job.  I have fond memories of me as a child sitting in St Peter and Paul’s church with my parents and brothers in complete awe of my surroundings. Going to St Bridget’s well, attending Mass at Christmas, participating in our commemorations to St Brigid, getting dressed up for Christmas and Easter celebrations, decorating my own prayer table and preparing for my sacraments.  Religion, for me as a child, was fun. 

“I’m delighted to be given the opportunity to give children what I was so lucky to experience when I was their age, especially when religion has received such negative media attention within the last few years. Pray and play lets children establish their own independent faith along with others of their own age. The John Paul II award allows participants to explore their faith, as well as open their hearts because no matter how much the world changes around us our faith will always unite us.”

The award leaders receive their leadership awards annually presented by the bishop of the diocese. 

This initiative adds a unique, rich dimension to our weekly celebration of the Eucharist that could easily be adopted in other parishes around the country. 


Nicole O’Leary is a student at Scoil Chríost Rí in Portlaoise, Co. Laois, one of 110 voluntary Catholic secondary schools managed by Ceist (Catholic Education and Irish Students Trust).