Catholic education is taking another step forward in Irbil in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, affirming the country’s historical leadership role in academia.
In the fall, Mar Qardakh School, a kindergarten through ninth grade Catholic institution, will open a high school, the Chesterton Academy of St. Thomas the Apostle, in the northern Iraq city.
Named for G.K. Chesterton, the renowned early 20th century English writer, philosopher and lay theologian who became Catholic, Chesterton schools employ the classical approach to education, emphasizing history, language studies and literature.
The academy is one of several initiatives established under Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil to help Christians remain in Iraq. The Christian presence dates to apostolic times. In 2003, there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, but today observers estimate about 250,000 remain.
In summer 2014, more than 120,000 Iraqi Christians were uprooted from their homes in Mosul and the Ninevah Plain by Islamic State militants and sought refuge in the Irbil Archdiocese. The archdiocese coordinated emergency aid, housing, education and pastoral care for the displaced families.
Aside from Mar Qardakh School, which is internationally accredited, Archbishop Warda has established three other schools. In 2015, he founded the Catholic University of Erbil. He most recently established Maryamana Hospital, also in Irbil. The institutions serve people of all faith traditions and cultures.
“Education is the key to building bridges of peace, reconciliation and coexistence, especially in the Middle East,” Archbishop Warda told Catholic News Service.
In developing the academy, Archbishop Warda invited a delegation from the U.S.-based Society of Gilbert Keith