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The Identity of the Catholic School: Part 2

April 05, 2022
By Our Lady of Sorrows School
OLS Altar Servers

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 second of three articles summarizing and ruminating on that document.

The second part of this new document speaks to those who are responsible for promoting and verifying the Catholic identity of the community. How would you answer the question: Who is responsible for the Catholic identity of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School? Our bishops answer "students, parents, teachers, non-teaching personnel and the school management" - in short, everyone who is a part of the parish and school community has the responsibility to work on the Catholic identity of everyone else who forms that community. The document continues by highlighting each group:

Members of the School Community

All personnel who work and minister at a Catholic school (front office staff, teaching faculty, custodians and food service workers, administration, counselors), as well as the families (parents, extended family, children / students) who help form the community - everyone "has the obligation to recognize, respect and bear witness to the Catholic identity of the school."

Pupils and Parents

The school community helps students integrate the Catholic faith with their culture, with parents having the first and primary responsibility of educating them in their faith. As students grow older, they take on more responsibility for their own growth in knowledge and faith, but always guided by their parents and other adults in their extended family. For those of us who are parents, the obligation to foster the faith of our children never fades.

It's necessary as well, as parents of school-aged children, to work closely and cooperate with their teachers, become involved in their education and the school / parish community, and participate in activities and groups geared towards parents and families. This helps parents to continue to grown in wisdom and faith, which in turn helps them to be role models of faith to their children. Choosing to send a child to a Catholic school, just as choosing to have children as part of a family, necessarily entails a sacrifice of parental time and energy in fulfilling the responsibilities of raising a child formed in faith and ready to serve society at large.

Teachers and Administrative Personnel

Teachers and staff have the important responsibility of sharing the faith both in word (teaching) and deed (actions). As a Catholic school community, this is part of the ministry of education. Faculty and staff should be hired with an eye towards their ability not only to fulfill contractual obligations, but by their practice of the Catholic faith as well, and, barring that practice, by their willingness to adhere to and promote the authentic teachings of the Catholic Church.

School Leaders

School leaders should be chosen with the same criteria listed above, as they have the added responsibility of partnering with the pastor to ensure the Catholicity of the school community. This responsibility extends to curriculum, facilities, and management of the campus, but is always rooted in the teachings of the Catholic Church. School leaders, then, have the responsibility of safeguarding the Catholicity of the campus in doctrine and in action, wether that intervention is towards faculty & staff, students, or families.

Educational Charisms in the Church

"Charism" is a word usually applied to religious communities, denoting their special gift to the Catholic Church. Some religious communities, for example, are known for their gift of teaching and education (the Jesuits); some are known for their example of poverty, humility, and service (the Franciscans); and some are know for their dedication to community and their gift of preaching (the Dominicans).

The Definition of Catholic School

Working at a Catholic school is an apostolate, a gift of ministry to the Church, with each member of the Church being called to certain charisma (gifts). The local Bishop (Bishop Flores, assisted by Bishop Mario) has primary responsibility for the work done in all Catholic churches in his diocese, followed by the pastor (Msgr. Barrera for OLS), and then the administrators (Mr. Martinez as principal of OLS). The Bishop alone, however, can designate an institution as Catholic; here in Texas, once designated as a Catholic school, we are also governed by the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops Education Department (TCCBED) who conduct assessments every seven years to accredit a school as a Catholic institution. Families, parents, and faculty and staff bring the charisms of their individual gifts and talents, all working together under the guidance and direction of the administrators, pastor, and Bishop.

My Thoughts

This section of the document highlights that every single person who is part of a Catholic school has duties and responsibilities to fulfill as well as gifts and talents to share. Far from working independently of each other, parents, extended family, faculty and staff, pastor and Bishop - all are called to work together in co-responsibility to challenge each other to grow in wisdom and faith. An attitude of listening and respect from all involved helps bring the reality of Christian dialogue to a school community, while also teaching the children that are part of that community how to interact not only through adult words, but more importantly through adult actions.

Choosing a Catholic school necessarily entails choosing it for its Catholic identity - that the academic program is rigorous, that there are many extracurricular activities for children to join, that the athletic program is award-winning, that the geographical area is desirable, or that the community is socially or economically advantaged - these are on the peripheries of choosing a Catholic education. Important to consider, yes; but they should never cloud the fact that the only reason a Catholic school exists is for the foundational and fundamental education in the Catholic faith of the members of that school community.

Blessings & Peace,
Hugo De La Rosa III