Tim Cook’s Charism and Culture: Cultivating Catholic Identity in Catholic Schools (2015) serves as a followup to his 2001 work Architects of Catholic Culture. Cook’s latest serves as great resource for Catholic school leaders to develop their school’s Catholic identity.  The chapters include:

  • What is Charism?
  • Aligning Symbolic Culture
  • Embedding Normative Culture
  • Building Capacity
  • Assessing Charism & Culture
  • Making it Personal
  • Sustaining Charism for the Future

Cook’s chapters are organized around these themes and it reads and looks like a workbook.  Cook’s contribution is to refine Catholic identity by referencing “charism”—defined as the school’s life force and the fire burning at the heart of the school.  He is right to point school leaders to the search for the unique heart of each Catholic school.  That heart may or may not be related to a religious order.  Regardless, schools are well-served to connect their charism to their mission, vision, and culture.  Cook offers tips on identifying a school’s charism as well as reflection questions.

We (school leaders) plan to use this book as part of a reading group/PLC throughout the year in order to identify the individual school charisms and ways to articulate, display, celebrate, and sustain.

Cook connects culture with behavior repeatedly throughout the book (“School traditions ‘allow us to act out meaning and values that would otherwise be difficult to understand and feel’”).  He connects practices, traditions, and behaviors as expressions of the charism.   He points out that for students, “their lived experience in our schools is the true measure of a school’s Catholic identity (31).”  Not the number of crosses, the quality of a mission statement, the number of Masses.  Cook is arguing that we know our school’s Catholic identity by the lived experience of our students.

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