After listening to the Catholic School Matters podcast with Sr. Elizabeth Allen on the Vatican document The Catholic School (1977), I find its relevance to our American Catholic education (even 40 years later) remarkable. And while different themes of the document emerge and are highlighted at different times in history, there are also themes that are timeless which challenge us to examine what we believe to be important about Catholic education.
First, no matter the time, no matter the era, the formation of souls and orientating them towards the mission of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is at the heart of who we are as Catholic schools. Yes, our primary role is to form our children in the faith. And, as we say here in Philadelphia, “we equip saints for life in this world and the next.” But is forming our teachers any less important? Aren’t we also responsible for equipping our teachers to be the same? As the document itself suggests, the Catholic school community is, by its actions and its everyday rhythm, a school unto itself. One way of understanding that is to recognize that kids learn much more from witnesses than they do by teachers. To quote Pope Paul VI: “Contemporary man needs testimony more than arguments.” Actions speak louder than words.
Second, that Christ is the foundation of the Catholic school and that the Beatitudes focus our efforts on the mission of the school are other timeless themes that our Catholic schools in the United States must take seriously. Pope Francis has emphasized this teaching. To embrace the poor, to practice mercy, to be makers of peace, and to reflect a sense of humility in all that we do–is there anything more relevant to our times than these? Should the Catholic school be doing anything more important at this critical time in our nation’s history? The answer seems clear to this school leader! In these days of cultural unrest, racial divide, political uncertainty where the “Gospel of Social Media” is louder than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are compelled to embrace the countercultural messages of the Sermon on the Mount.
Finally, while 40 years have passed since the promulgation of The Catholic School, the prophetic nature of its message rings true for all of us engaged in this endeavor. It is no secret that the very nature of what it means to be a “Catholic” school is being debated and challenged across the country. Is it measured by how many religious we have in a school? Is it measured by how many Catholic kids we have in a school? Is it a measured by the number of service hours completed by the student body? If these are the only measures that matter to us in 2017, then we are missing the larger picture of what makes a school “Catholic”. These indicators of Catholic identity are just those, indicators. What makes the difference for our schools today is the mission of Christian formation that we endeavor to continue on behalf of the Church. Catholic schools remain the single most effective way of passing on the traditions of our faith outside of the family. At the heart of that is our desire to form men and women, teachers and students alike, into the disciples that Christ has called them to be by virtue of their baptism.