The Role of the Church in Education

old-school

When I was a little girl, like most Catholic children, I attended the neighborhood Catholic school. We were very privileged, compared with many other parts of the world, in that our education was free. There were parallel public school systems, Catholic and Protestant, although the Protestant system was largely secular. The Catholic schools were attached to the parish and the pastor was involved in ensuring that the children received adequate catechesis and preparation for the sacraments. Many of our teachers were Holy Cross sisters. Every month, the whole school would walk to the church for First Friday Mass and we also were taken regularly for Confession. Our education was infused with our Catholic faith – literature, history, everything.

Soon after that, the Catholic system began to collapse. Even my younger siblings did not have the same experience, and by the time I had children of my own, the Catholic schools had virtually lost their identity. Eventually, after several government manoeuvers, the school boards were realigned and, other than a handful of private institutions, Catholic schools disappeared. Both the clergy and the laity dropped the ball, in my opinion, but I am not writing to lay blame. Rather, I think we have to look at our responsibility today for educating our children as the Church asks us to do. The crisis is acute in Quebec, but it exists in varying degrees in many dioceses.

Archbishop J. Michael Miller addressed the role of the Church in a 2005 address at Catholic University of America:

What role does the Church play in assisting Catholic families in education? By her very nature the Church has the right and the obligation to proclaim the Gospel to all nations (cf. Mt 28:20). In the words of Gravissimum Educationis:

To fulfill the mandate she has received from her divine founder of proclaiming the mystery of salvation to all men and of restoring all things in Christ, Holy Mother the Church must be concerned with the whole of man’s life, even the secular part of it insofar as it has a bearing on his heavenly calling. Therefore, she has a role in the progress and development of education.

In a special way, the duty of educating is an ecclesial responsibility: “The Church is bound as a mother to give to these children of hers an education by which their whole life can be imbued with the spirit of Christ.” Note, however, that parents do not surrender their children to the Church but share a common undertaking.

The Church recognizes that the diocese has a responsibility to support parents in the education of their children. It is fundamental to the Church’s evangelizing mission. Archbishop Miller continues:

Precisely because of this evangelizing mission, our schools, if they are to be genuinely ecclesial – and they must be that if they are to be authentically Catholic – must be integrated within the organic pastoral activity of the parish, diocesan and universal Church…

The Catholic school, therefore, should play a vital role in the pastoral activity of the diocese. It is a pastoral instrument of the Church for her mission of evangelization. The bishop’s leadership is pivotal in lending support and guidance to Catholic schools: “only the bishop can set the tone, ensure the priority and effectively present the importance of the cause to the Catholic people.” (quoting St. John Paul II)

As I’ve mentioned before, many parents today are themselves victims of poor catechesis. They are unaware of what is lacking in their children’s education. Most parishes recognize that reaching out to parents (and other adults) should be their highest priority, but it is very difficult to engage them. More on that tomorrow.

Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, pray for us!

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