Guest blog response to the Declaration on Christian Education (1965) podcast by Lorraine Ozar, Ph.D.

When the Declaration on Christian Education (Gravissimum Educationes) was published in 1965 at the end of the Second Vatican Council, Catholic schools in the United States were at their peak enrollment.  They functioned almost as a parallel school system, aimed at transmitting the faith and in response serving the human community in light of the Gospel.  In 2017 we often find ourselves coming at our core mission from the other direction.  In a diversely pluralistic society, Catholic schools aim to serve and transform the human community in light of the Gospel and the person of Jesus Christ, and in that process open dialogue to deepen faith and find God.  The roots of this document from a previous time still serve us well.

Among other things, the Declaration on Christian Education recognized the primacy of education to human life, affirmed education as an inalienable right, affirmed the right of all baptized persons to Christian education, declared that the aim of education is for persons to pursue their ultimate end (to be with God) and contribute to the good of society, and recognized parents as the primary educators of faith, calling on both the Church and the State to support parents in choosing the right education for their children. The document also declared the preeminence of schoolteachers in realizing the mission of education.  The New York Times reported in 1965 that the Declaration called for widespread accessibility to moral education, civic support of religious schools, and emphasized the primary role of parents.

I teach this document to undergraduate teacher prep candidates at Loyola University Chicago.  They have a hard time with the glaringly non-inclusive language (as do I); still, they resonate with the ahead-of-its-time call for expanding education to all children and extending Christian education beyond childhood to adolescents and adults.  They come to understand the intent of the Declaration even more when they read a companion assignment: “Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Participants of the World Congress on Catholic Education.” (Rome, 2015) The World Congress commemorated the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Declaration on Christian Education (DCE) I tell my students to think of the address as the current Pope’s impromptu update to the earlier document.

And how does Pope Francis interpret DCE?  He says that true and complete education must be about the harmonious development of physical, moral, and intellectual capacities; it must be education “for the mind, heart, and hands;” it must allow room for and promote the interplay of faith, reason, and justice; it must develop truth and love together.  It cannot be selective, elitist. And in his view, if any one of the three – mind, heart, hands – is missing, the education is selective.  To do this, education must “take risks and go outside the walls” to quote Pope Francis. “Sometimes”, says the Pope, “we live in a fortress mentality — we set up walls; we teach OUR way vs. others; we have truth to give out.  Education is formal and within the walls.  Real education— real Christian education — must go outside the walls; it must engage in responsible risk-taking.”

To make our own 2017 Declaration on Christian Education with 50+ years of experience behind us, we do well to listen to what Pope Francis told the delegates in Rome: Education must happen in dialogue.  Education must go outside the walls.  Education must be for the common good.

On this Declaration, I am “all in.”