The Five Essential Marks of a Catholic School

Last week we looked at how both parents and the Church have the responsibility to provide for the education of children, where possible, in Catholic schools. We also raised concerns about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, the de facto religion of many teens and emerging adults, which has had a very disturbing impact on young Catholics. This is a disappointing reality that tells us that we have failed a generation of children, not out of malice, of course, but there it is.

When my children were entering school about twenty-five years ago, the red flags were up over “values clarification” and “situational ethics” concepts entering modern pedagogy. Parents were rightly concerned about a growing trend to influence the way children reasoned and made moral decisions. These ideas entered Catholic schools as well as public schools even though they are antithetical to authentic Catholic pedagogy. The effects can be seen in the rise of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as a religious code for so many young Catholics today.

To counter this, for our children’s sake, we need to embrace the Catholic idea of education. In the following summary of his remarks, Archbishop J. Michael Miller describes the “Five Essential Marks of Catholic Schools”. I encourage you to click on the link and read the full text.

Inspired by a  Supernatural Vision

The first mark indicates that we are educating the whole child, with eyes fixed on God. “Catholic schools have a straightforward goal: to foster the growth of good Catholic human beings who love God and neighbor and thus fulfill their destiny of becoming saints.

Founded on a Christian Anthropology

The Church teaches “to be worthy of its name, a Catholic school must be founded on Jesus Christ the Redeemer who, through his Incarnation, is united with each student. Christ is not an after-thought or an add-on to Catholic educational philosophy but the center and fulcrum of the entire enterprise, the light enlightening every pupil who comes into our schools.”

The Gospel of Christ and his very person are, therefore, to inspire and guide the Catholic school in its every dimension: its philosophy of education, its curriculum, community life, its selection of teachers, and even its physical environment. As John Paul II wrote in his 1979 Message to the National Catholic Educational Association of the United States: “Catholic education is above all a question of communicating Christ, of helping to form Christ in the lives of others.”

Animated by Communion and Community

A third important teaching on Catholic schools that has emerged in the Holy See’s documents in recent years is its emphasis on the community aspect of the Catholic school, a dimension rooted both, in the social nature of the human person and the reality the Church as a “the home and the school of communion…” Elementary schools “should try to create a community school climate that reproduces, as far as possible, the warm and intimate atmosphere of family life. Those responsible for these schools will, therefore, do everything they can to promote a common spirit of trust and spontaneity.” This means that all involved should develop a real willingness to collaborate among themselves. Teachers, Religious and lay, together with parents and trustees, should work together as a team for the school’s common good and their right to be involved in its responsibilities. The Holy See is ever careful to foster the appropriate involvement of parents in Catholic schools. Indeed, more than in the past, teachers and administrators must often encourage parental participation. Theirs is a partnership directed not just to dealing with academic problems but to planning and evaluating the effectiveness of the school’s mission.

Imbued with a Catholic Worldview

Catholicism should permeate not just the class period of catechism or religious education, or the school’s pastoral activities, but the entire curriculum. The Vatican documents speak of “an integral education, an education which responds to all the needs of the human person.” This is why the Church establishes schools: because they are a privileged place which fosters the formation of the whole person. An integral education aims to develop gradually every capability of every student: their intellectual, physical, psychological, moral and religious dimensions. It is “intentionally directed to the growth of the whole person.” To be integral or “whole,” Catholic schooling must be constantly inspired and guided by the Gospel. As we have seen, the Catholic school would betray its purpose if it failed to take as its touchstone the person of Christ and his Gospel: “It derives all the energy necessary for its educational work from him.”

Unlike skeptics and relativists, Catholic teachers share a specific conviction about truth: that they can pursue, and, to a limited but real extent, attain and communicate it to others. Catholic schools take up the daunting task of freeing boys and girls from the insidious consequences of what Benedict XVI recently called the “dictatorship of relativism”-a dictatorship which cripples all genuine education. Catholic educators are to have in themselves and develop in others a passion for truth which defeats moral and cultural relativism. They are to educate “in the truth.”

Mindful of redemption in Christ, the Catholic school aims at forming in its pupils those particular virtues that will enable them to live a new life in Christ and help them to play faithfully their part in building up the kingdom of God. It strives to develop virtue “by the integration of culture with faith and of faith with living.” Taking the risk of being blunt, the Congregation for Catholic Education has written that “the Catholic school tries to create within its walls a climate in which the pupil’s faith will gradually mature and enable him to assume the responsibility placed on him by Baptism.”

Sustained by the Witness of Teaching

As well as fostering a Catholic view across throughout the curriculum, even in so-called secular subjects, “if students in Catholic schools are to gain a genuine experience of the Church, the example of teachers and others responsible for their formation is crucial: the witness of adults in the school community is a vital part of the school’s identity.” Children will pick up far more by example than by masterful pedagogical techniques, especially in the practice of Christian virtues.

Educators at every level in the Church are expected to be models for their students by bearing transparent witness to the Gospel. If boys and girls are to experience the splendor of the Church, the Christian example of teachers and others responsible for their formation is crucial.

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