Today’s Guest Blogger is Michael Zelenka from the University of Notre Dame & ACE.  His topic is the Church Document “Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School” podcast on the Catholic School Matters podcast.

In his latest podcast, Dr. Uhl and John Galvan, Director of Schools from the Diocese of San Diego, address three areas of The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School: Guidelines for Reflection and Renewal for ongoing consideration:

  • The need for Catholic schools to respond to the dangers children face
  • The importance of establishing a vibrant Catholic identity within the school
  • The responsibility of teachers to be authentic witnesses of Jesus Christ


This document opens with a call to action. The opening paragraphs speak of the trials faced by children and how Catholic schools must heroically respond to their needs. The Congregation recognizes that young people find themselves in “radical instability” (#10) and “in an environment devoid of truly human relationships; as a result they suffer from loneliness and a lack of affection” (#11). Written almost 30 years ago, the urgent need for Catholic schools to offer to students “something of value in their lives” (#13) has both lingered and intensified. Our kids need what Catholic schools offer.

Given this urgent need, there is grave importance to establish an unabashedly Catholic climate within the school so that “From the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic school, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith, and having its own unique characteristics” (#25).

This Catholic school climate “must create favorable conditions for a formation process” and includes: “persons, space, time, relationships, teaching, study and various other activities” (#24). The Congregation covers each of these facets of the Catholic climate with a heavy emphasis on the role of the teacher in creating this atmosphere, stating, “Prime responsibility for creating this unique Christian school climate rests with the teachers, as individuals and as a community” (#26).

The Congregation, in highlighting the importance of teachers within Catholic schools, echo the words of Pope Paul VI in 1975, when he proclaimed, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” The responsibility of teachers to establish and uphold this Catholic culture and to be authentic witnesses of Christian discipleship “includes such things as affection, tact, understanding, serenity of spirit, a balanced judgment, patience in listening to others and prudence in the way they respond and, finally, availability for personal meetings and conversations with the students” (#96). The teachers within our Catholic schools must make Jesus incarnate in every interaction, relationship, and moment.

Dr. Uhl and Mr. Galvan highlight the quote-worthiness of many passages within this document from the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education while also recognizing that it merely reinforces and extends concepts and ideas from documents that preceded it.   Nonetheless, The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School centers itself on ensuring that Catholic schools maintain, harness and ultimately unleash the qualities and characteristics that make our schools, along with grace, instruments that can and will change our world.