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The Identity of the Catholic School: Part 1

March 30, 2022
By Our Lady of Sorrows School
OLS Students after serving Sunday Mass

The Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education published a new document  (on Tuesday) called The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue. This document aims "to offer a more in-depth and up-to-date reflection and guidelines on the value of the Catholic Identity of educational institutions in the Church." These guidelines are given to the worldwide church against the backdrop of two guiding principles: subsidiarity (part of our Church's Catholic social teachings: that organizations exist for individuals, and that what the individual, or what the small group can do for themselves, shouldn't be done for them by the organization) and synodality (the current worldwide movement initiated by Pope Francis to help bring about communication at all levels of the Church). This is the first of three articles summarizing and ruminating on that document.

The Church, Mother & Teacher

The document begins by reminding us that the Catholic Church is a gift given to the entire world by Christ - a gift of maternal love and care, both for Catholics and all people of good will, regardless of the spiritual path they practice. As our universal mother, the Church is also a guide and teacher to both individuals and groups. The educational nature of our Church, then, "represents an essential part of her identity and mission."

Implicit in these reminders is the underlying assumption that, when we speak of the Church, we are speaking of both the institutional hierarchy (Pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, and deacons) who exercise their authority to teach, but also to parents as the first educators of their children and their families (the domestic church), as well as to those of us who have the joy of ministering in a Catholic school. We are called - as educators and parents - to educate ourselves, our families, our co-workers, and our students both with our words and our actions.

The Fundamental Principles of Christian Education in Schools

Building on previous church documents having to do with education, the document lays out several fundamental principles for Catholic identify in a Catholic school:

Universal right: all people have a fundamental right, as befits their dignity as human persons, to receive a quality education

Responsibility for all: parents have the primary responsibility of educating their children; the state and civil authorities have the responsibility of ensuring that all parents have choices and options in regard to when and where parents choose to share that responsibility with professional educators; we as the Church have the responsibility of evangelizing (preaching the good news of Jesus through word and deed) and catechizing (teaching the fundamentals of the faith in age-appropriate ways) Catholics and all people of good will

Formation of teachers: as an apostolate (a ministry within the Church), educators in Catholic schools are to be continuously formed in both their personal and professional lives, to give witness to Christ through their ministry of teaching

Mutual cooperation & community: parents and teachers must work together for the betterment of students, both educationally and morally; educators are called to be mentors and guides, as well as educational teachers, so that the "Catholic school prepares pupils to exercise freedom responsibly, forming an attitude of openness and solidarity."

Further Developments

The Dynamic Profile of the Catholic School Identity

As a school, we are called and challenged to both educate each child and to help form them as whole persons - academically, socially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Educational institutions are second only to the family as the place where children grow and develop, especially in their thirst for knowledge and the ability to use their freedom, gifts, and talents for the greater good.

As a specifically Catholic school, we are called to help students center their lives on Jesus Christ, both as a personal and communal relationship that stresses the life and teachings of Jesus, Mary and the saints, and the example of parents, relatives, and the local community. We are called and challenged to use all the tools at our disposal to present the Good News of Jesus in age-appropriate and relevant ways to our students, just as Jesus used the images, the stories, and the lives of the people he preached and ministered to.

Finally, as a Catholic school, we are called to be a school for all who wish to have a Catholic education, especially those who are "socially and economically disadvantaged." Far from being a place for only the privileged or the wealthy, Catholic schools should be bastions of faith and hope for all parents who wish to give their children the gift of a deeper experience of their faith while at the same time nurturing a strong academic foundation.

The Witness of Lay and Consecrated Educators

The document reminds us that education in a Catholic setting involves both acquiring knowledge and growing in wisdom. In most Catholic educational settings, this teaching is done by lay professionals (non-clergy, non-consecrated; people that are single or married, but not a priest, nun, brother, etc.). These lay teachers, however, perform this job and ministry to the Church as an act of service, not solely as a profession. Together with consecrated educators, we form a community that has, as it's mission, the education and formation of our students and individual campuses.

Educating to Dialogue

As a Catholic school, one of our challenges is to be open to different cultural expressions of faith, and indeed, to expressions of faith from other world religions. We do so by "welcoming pupils from different cultural backgrounds and religious affiliations." We are then called to bear witness to our Catholic faith in word and deed; to impart true, charitable, and correct knowledge about our Catholic faith to all students that hopefully leads to a fruitful life in Christ while respecting each families' religious choices; and to be willing to dialogue with the diverse cultures and religions present in our school communities.

As a church institution, each Catholic school if further called and challenged to continual evangelization even as we engage in fruitful dialogue with those who practice a different faith. The three principles Pope Francis gives us for this fruitful dialogue are:

  • to respect one's own identity and that of others
  • the courage to accept differences (we should not treat those who are different from us as enemies but "welcomed as fellow travelers"))
  • sincerity of intention (dialogue for the sake of mutual learning, not solely for the sake of conversion)

We are called to be a Catholic school that "goes forth" to others as an inclusive, welcoming, affirming, respectful, and peacemaking community that both instructs our community in word and deed and exercises a "culture of care" for all constituents: children, families, faculty & staff, parish community, and the wider community. Our prayer is that we, and every other Catholic educational institution, does the same.

Blessings & Peace,
Hugo De La Rosa III