Today’s guest blogger is Jack Peterson, the founder of Managing for Mission, who joined me for a podcast conversation about the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education 2002 document Consecrated Persons and Their Mission in Schools. This podcast is part of a series of Church documents podcasts on Catholic School Matters.
Let’s say you’re a lay leader or teacher in a Catholic school, and you’ve got some time on your hands (I realize this is starting to sound far-fetched). Let’s say it is 2017 and you’re looking for something relevant to read. What are the chances that you’d pick up a document from the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education called Consecrated Persons and Their Mission in Schools? Not much? Well let me suggest a few reasons why you might.
The document was written in 2002, presumably to make a case for the increasingly rare sister, brother or priest, to become or stay involved in the ministry of Catholic education. You might be interested in how to make that case yourself. Who doesn’t want more of these dedicated, special people in our schools, standing alongside our lay leaders and teachers? Not only have the numbers declined but they are often drawn to other apostolates where they may feel more needed or more comfortable. In this document, the Church makes it clear that such a shift is not what it is hoping for.
Twenty years prior, this Congregation issued a document called Lay Catholics in schools: Witnesses to the Faith. So it’s not a question of the Church thinking we need to roll back the clock to the 1950’s. The Church (at least at its heart) is already over that. But this document makes clear that consecrated members of religious institutes (aka sisters, brothers and priests from various orders) by virtue of the evangelical counsels (aka vows of poverty, chastity and obedience) have an important prophetic role. They have a unique vantage point to help us discern the good and bad in the culture around us. And schools, where they can accompany the young who are just coming to understand the world around them (and their teachers, who are still trying to understand it) are a perfect place to carry out that prophetic role.
Still thinking the document is for them and not for you? That’s what I thought. But as I read the document, two other insights emerged for me. First, there is a vision of the ministry of Catholic schools that resonates with other post-conciliar documents but frames it in a unique way. It talks about the schools as places of discernment, of contemplation as well as embracing the human person in the evolving culture. I found these words both challenging and comforting.
The second insight is that we are not going back anytime soon to a world where consecrated persons are plentiful enough that we can rely on them for providing this discerning, contemplative and prophetic dimension to our schools. As I read what the Church was exhorting them to, I had to ask myself, how can I, and my lay colleagues, also embody this prophetic vocation? How can the way I live my own evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience give me that vantage point to help others, especially the young, evaluate an unfolding world with honesty and some critical distance?
So if you find yourself with some time on your hands, time to go a little deeper into the relationship between the Church and your work as an educator, give this 27 page document a shot. And/or tune into the Catholic School Matters podcast of my conversation with Dr. Tim Uhl about the document. I don’t think it would hurt for all of us in the ministry of Catholic education to see ourselves as consecrated persons.