Young People Find Language for Their Faith 

 Since 2014 the Order of the Knights of St Columbanus, have organised a public speaking competition entitled “Young People Find Language for their Faith” for students in years 12, 13 or 14 in Northern Ireland and from Transition year or 5th and 6th Years in Ireland. The competition is organised on a provincial basis with provincial winners and runners up participating in the All-Ireland Finals which this year were held on 8th March in Carlton Hotel Dublin Airport. 

The aims of the competition are:- 

  • To provide opportunities for students to research and study papal encyclicals and church teaching. 
  • To encourage students to work as a team in preparing and delivering balanced presentations. 
  • To provide opportunities for the youth to ponder upon and to question Church Teaching enabling their faith to grow. 
  • To strengthen the bonds between pupil and teacher 
  • To affirm teachers who often are working in challenging and secular environments. 
  • To assist young people become opinion formers among their peers. 
  • To raise the profile of the Order around the country 
  • To assist in giving our young people the skills and knowledge to be those agents of evangelisation among their peers. 

The competition meets three of the Order’s objectives. 

1. Promoting the extension of practical Christianity in all phases of life. 

2. Honour the Faith. 

3. Preparing members for the apostolate. 

People Francis in his exhortation Christus Vivit 2019 in his reference to youth stated “They only have to be encouraged and given the freedom to be enthused about evangelizing other young people wherever they are to be found…… What is most important, though, is that each young person can be daring enough to sow the seed of the message on that fertile terrain that is the heart of another young person.” 

Students in making their presentations support their arguments with references and quotes from Old and New Testament, and other Catholic Social Teachings documents. 

The total presentation lasts between 11 and 13 minutes. Each team of three is expected to address the topic under discussion in a balanced way. 

When the team presentation is completed, an unseen question is provided to the team who, after conferring, respond with their reply. 

Adjudicators provide students with positive feedback and improvements highlighted at each stage of the competition. Often, the teams, in advance of the competition, make their presentations to a variety of classes within the school and encourage students questioning. 

It is a pleasure to witness the transformation in each team as it progresses in the competition. The audience witness the drama unfolding. On arrival, students are regularly found, huddled in a corner, for the final practice, trying to ensure minimum reading. The competition provides opportunities for a wide use of language, the crafting and recrafting, the moulding of their presentations, the displaying of a variety of thinking processes to convey their message, the inspiring the adjudicators and the audience. In the earlier rounds we witness that fear and nervousness in the students that we all encounter as we begin to speak but as the competition continues that fear is replaced by a determination to be the best one can be for the team. Young People Find Language for Their Faith 

As the drama continues it is wonderful to witness that demonstration of team unity as each attempt to bring something unique to the presentation, the use of effective pause to encourage reflection, the change in tone, the hand gestures, or moving from the lectern to make eye contact with the adjudicators and audience. 

Also, it is wonderful to witness the pain on the teachers faces and their bodies contracting with anguish wondering how their students will respond to the unseen questions but minutes later that pain is replaced by smiles and joy as the student surprises everyone with her or his excellent answer giving an unique reflection. 

As the competition developed, we have evidenced:- 

  • Students growing in confidence. 
  • The raising of students’ self-esteem in many situations 
  • Networking by students and teachers with those from other schools. 
  • Students, through their participation and experiences in the competition have refined their career choices. 
  • Students using a variety of sources to support their arguments. 
  • Students’ exposure to the Catholic Social Teachings bringing about a transformation in thinking and attitudes. 
  • Teachers sharing teaching resources and team-teaching using Microsoft teams. 

This year the standard surpassed what we had experienced in previous years. 

2024 All Ireland winning team: Abbey Community College.

After eight exceptional presentations, Abbey Community College Boyle the winners who addressed the topic; We can’t claim ignorance or uncertainty about what is happening on climate.” with Castlerea Community School addressing the topic “There is no alternative to peace. There is no sense to go to war.” 

and St Louis Grammar School Ballymena whose topic “The world sings of an infinite Love: how can we fail to care for it?” were joint runners up. 

All Ireland Prize-winners 

2015 Rathmore Grammar School, Belfast 

2016 St Ciaran’s College, Ballygawley 

2017 St Louis Grammar School, Kilkeel 

2018 Ursuline Secondary School, Thurles 

2019 Castlerea Community School 

2020 – 2022 Essay Competition as the Public Speaking was suspended due to Covid 

2023 St Louis Grammar School Ballymena 

2024 Abbey Community College Boyle 

It has been a privilege to have been involved with the students and teachers. They have been inspiring and very appreciative to be invited to participate. However, Order support it is disappointing. Going forward, you the members of the Order must demonstrate ownership of the competition through engaging positively with our youth and their teachers. Once again, the Order has something unique, something which other organisations which to seize control. The Supreme Executive have issues to address. Hopefully they will be addressed, or I shall be forced to consider my position as coordinator of this fantastic competition. 

Seamus Mc Donald 



Winners of the 2023 Public Speaking Competition St Louis Grammar School Ballymena with their teacher Ms Pickering and the Deputy Supreme Knight, Adrian King, who made the presentation.
The All-Ireland Finals took place on Saturday 25th March in Carlton Hotel, Dublin

Deputy Supreme Knight, Adrian King, presents the regional award to the Leinster winners Killina Presentation School of the 2023 Public Speaking Competition

Above: The winners of Connacht Castlerea Community School with their Chaplain Stephen O’Hara and Teacher Margaret Larkin.

The 2023 Ulster final will take place on Monday 20th March at 11.30 in St Louis Grammar School, Ballymena.

The All-Ireland Finals will take place on Saturday 25th March at 1.30pm. in Carlton Hotel Old Airport Road, Cloghran, Dublin, K67P5C7.

Below: Ursuline Secondary School, Munster winners 2023

With students involved in home study an essay competition was organised. The response has been amazing. The competition has arrived at the concluding stages.

We are deeply indebted to those students and teachers who have participated to the Public Speaking and Essay competitions. Their contributions have made our lives much richer.

Further information can be obtained at