Dr. Erin Barisano, the Assistant Superintendent for Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, is the guest blogger for the Catholic School Matters podcast series on Educating Together in Catholic Schools: A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful, the 2007 Vatican Document from the Congregation for Catholic Education. The podcast conversation between Dr. Tim Uhl and Kristin Melley, the Director of Professional Development at the Roche Center for Catholic Education at Boston College.
What a beautiful way to conclude the Church Document Series! Educating Together in Catholic Schools: A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful is a landmark document that continues to serve as both a source of encouragement and challenge ten years after it was written. This document can easily serve as a framework to grow authentically as persons of faith and open ourselves to the grace of God. Tim’s conversation with Kristin Melley was filled with poignant dialogue, but the three themes that stuck with me were communion, formation, and witness.
I love that this document consistently used the word “communion” as opposed to “community.” So often, we identify our schools as communities of faith and learning. This document challenges us to push the definition of community to the limits and to not only acknowledge our relationship with the larger Church, but to fully embrace it. If we are in communion with one another, we embrace the notion that we need each other to make meaning of ourselves. So it is with our Catholic schools. In order to recognize that we are in community with one another in a very basic sense, we need to recognize that as schools we are in communion with the larger Church. As such, the Church’s history becomes our history and the Church’s challenges become our challenges. When we are in full communion with one another, we are given the opportunity to be in communion with Christ and experience His love and grace more fully. It is only then that we are truly the Body of Christ.
Once we embrace the notion that our schools are in communion with one another and the larger Church, we must acknowledge our need for formation. In the most basic sense, schools exist to educate, but Catholic schools have the opportunity and responsibility to not simply educate the mind, but form the hearts and souls of young people. This is the difference between information and formation. While information is an integral part of learning, formation of our students is what we are about. This formation takes place both in and out of the classroom and cannot be an add-on; it must be fully integrated into everything we do. This is both our mission and our challenge. An additional challenge lies in ensuring that our teachers are properly formed in the faith and on fire with the mission of Catholic schools. This can only be accomplished if our school, parish, and diocesan leaders are committed to working together to focus on the spiritual needs of our teachers. With proper formation and spiritual nourishment, teachers will naturally be witnesses to the faith.
Catholic schools exist to help fulfill the evangelizing mission of the Church. In order to evangelize and spread the Good News of Christ, school leaders and teachers must serve as witnesses to our faith. What exactly does this mean? First and foremost, school leaders and teachers must have a living relationship with Christ. We must take time to pray, receive the sacraments, and listen to God’s call in our lives. We must be open to allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us so that our students may hear God’s call in their own lives. Finally, school leaders must hire teachers who can be witnesses to Christ and be willing to support them in their own spiritual journeys.
These themes of communion, formation, and witness are integrated throughout this document and were beautifully expounded upon in Tim and Kristin’s interview. This podcast serves as a great reminder that our Catholic schools are places where we have the opportunity to encounter Christ on a daily basis. This opportunity is available to our students, teachers, parents, and leaders if we but open our hearts to Christ. Our schools have unique environments in which we are called to serve as witnesses to Christ and having a living relationship with Him. This leads to a question of formation: How do we prepare our teachers and leaders to witness Christ and have a relationship with Him? To push this even further, how do we prepare our diocesan leaders and superintendents to witness Christ and have a relationship with Him? At the end of the interview, Tim suggests that there be a course in Church documents as a formation opportunity for superintendents, so that we may grow in communion with Christ to better support the spiritual needs of our principals and teachers. If this course ever comes to fruition, sign me up!