The January 22nd podcast marks the conclusion of the podcast series on Church documents.  Kristin Melley of Boston College joins me to discuss Educating Together in Catholic Schools, the Vatican Congregation of Catholic Education’s 2007 statement on Catholic education.  This has been a fruitful learning journey for me and I have provided links to the documents, the podcasts, study questions, blogs about the documents, and additional resources (click here) which will remain to provide school leaders with a chance to learn from the documents in a PLC format for ongoing professional formation.

I challenged myself to synthesize the project and decided that what would make the most sense is to take the seven Vatican documents and pull out common themes.  This project began with Vatican II’s Gravissimum Educationis (Declaration on Christian Education).  Vatican II provided the Church with a new mission statement and announced that Catholic institutions (like schools) were no longer bound by the fortress paradigm present in so many Catholic “ghettoes”—which means Catholics were immersed in Catholic institutions from womb to tomb, including neighborhoods, hospitals, schools, churches, restaurants, funeral parlors, etc.  The new paradigm was community and schools were challenged to become faith communities first in order to announce the “way of salvation of all men” (paragraph 3).

Schools, then, were given a new mission to evangelize and not simply serve its own.  To whom?  And how?  The Declaration serves to answer both which serve as themes running through the remaining documents.  The call to serve all children of God is found in section 2.  The explicit answer to how to serve is found in section 8: “May teachers by their life as much as by their instruction bear witness to Christ.”  The call to evangelize the world and the means of forming teachers is a consistent theme.

In the next Vatican document, The Catholic School (1977), the bishops state the mission of Catholic schools clearly: “Evangelization is, therefore, the mission of the Church; that is she must proclaim the good news of salvation to all, generate new creatures in Christ through Baptism, and train them to live knowingly as children of God” (7).  Later in the document, the bishops warn against a school who only admits students who can afford it and challenges all schools to offer “educational service to the poor or those who are deprived of family help and affection or those who are far from the faith” (58).  This is a clear call to evangelization and comes at a time when schools were closing and were becoming dependent on tuition.

The bishops clearly state the importance of forming an intentional faith community formed through relationships (32) and point to the importance of teachers.  “The achievement of…the Catholic school depends not so much on subject matter or methodology as on the people who work there” (43).  What we see here is a discussion that it’s not simply enough to hire good people—we need to develop a process of continual formation for mission.

This mission is clearly discussed in Lay Catholics in Schools (1982), which discusses the uniqueness of the lay vocation in schools (2) and the call of teaching (15).  “The more completely an educator can give concrete witness to the model of the ideal person that is being presented to the students, the more this ideal will be believed and imitated” (32).  Lay people can serve as “leaven” (7) to the school community, can participate in evangelization (9) and help build community.  After all, “every human being is called to live in community, as a social being, and as a member of the People of God” (22).

It was about this time that I came to realize that my simple answer to why I love Catholic schools found articulation.  When asked why I love working in Catholic schools, I’ve often said that it’s all I’ve ever known.  My friends all come from Catholic schools and I have such fond memories of the great teachers, teams, clubs, and memories.  I came to realize that there’s a spiritual framework to this community.  I was taught great pedagogy, sure.  But I was taught and formed in the context of faith communities which helped me come alive as a person.

The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (1988) tackles religious education more directly.  The bishops return to the theme of school community as foundational for the climate of the school and as the proper pedagogical formation of students.  Outlining the needs of students to find meaning, the bishops return to the theme of the personal witness of teachers.  “It is possible to love a person; it is rather difficult to love a formula” (107).  The bishops are calling for embracing a climate of personal relationships and outline a program of proper formation.

The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium (1997) returns to the theme of the missionary thrust of the school.  When discussing the financial strain of Catholic schools and their dependence on tuition, the bishops warn that this can “result in the exclusion from Catholic schools of those who cannot afford to pay, leading to a selection according to means which deprives the Catholic school of one of its distinguishing features, which is to be a school for all” (7).  This is an explicit call to become a school for the poor.  Later, they advocate for a school to pay “special attention to those who are weakest” and state that the “vocation” of a school is to be a “genuine experience of the Church” (12).  The school exists to form the young, the future of the Church and of the world.

Consecrated Persons and Their Mission in Schools (2002) examines the role of consecrated priests, brothers, and sisters and their roles as witnesses in schools.  As religious vocations have declined and the presence of consecrated persons in schools has likewise declined, the documents serves as reminder of their value in Catholic schools.  It was not for free labor but for the example given to the school communities.  This counter-cultural example showed a preferential options for the poorest and the “availability of God’s love in a world where materials and having seem to prevail over being” (26).

Educating Together in Catholic Schools (2007) gives the most explicit definition of school as community.  “It is precisely the presence and life of an educational community, in which all the members participate in a fraternal communion, nourished by a living relationship with Christ and with the Church, that makes the Catholic school the environment for an authentically ecclesial experience” (14).  This marks the first use of the word communion to capture the essence of a school faith community.  It brings together the meaning of faith formation for teachers, administrators, and students.  The journey of forming students is joined to the need for forming our teachers and administrators as witnesses to our salvific mission.

As the documents underscore the need for forming Catholic school teachers and administrators, this opportunity to study and disseminate the meaning of the documents has arisen.  Now there is an onramp to understanding the Church’s vision for Catholic schools and a path toward better formation of our teachers and administrators.