Last week, the English translation of the latest Congregation for Catholic Education’s document, “The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue” was published. This week, I’m offering a primer on the document below and an introduction through a podcast panel of distinguished professors in order to help you learn from this document. This is an easily accessible document and I encourage all Catholic school stakeholders to find some time for learning.

On this week’s podcast, I discuss the document with Dr. Melodie Wyttenbach, the Executive Director of the Roche Center at Boston College; her colleague, Fr./Dr. John Piderit, SJ, who has written extensively on Catholic identity; and Dr. Lauren Casella from Loyola Marymount, who is currently guiding our principals through a Catholic Identity PLN. All three have spent time in K12 buildings and now are supporting current and future principals & teachers. Building better Catholic schools are primary concerns of all three.

Below, I’ll outline four quick takeaways with quotes which reference the specific paragraph. This is not meant to be a comprehensive analysis of the language, only a primer to get you started.

  1. Formation of Teachers. Presented as “fundamental” (14) the initial and permanent formation of teachers is emphasized. Catholic schools depend on its teachers and their vocations (24) is critical. The school as “faith community not institution” (16) is the guiding metaphor.
  2. Mission & Vision. Even when hiring, people need to be told what the Catholic school is all about. As “instruments for institutional and professional quality assurance” Catholic schools must have either a mission statement or code of conduct. (77) The mission must be explicit and clearly articulated to all. (49) We can no longer assume that everyone knows what we stand for and why Catholic schools exist. However, the document cautions against a “narrow view” of Catholicity that would require adherence of all to Catholic teaching. (72, 28). Rather the Catholic school is called for dialogue and since that is in the title, this emphasis cannot be stressed enough.
  3. Values. The document calls for a revisiting of our basic values, notably that Catholic schools have a preferential option for the poor and “school for all, especially the weakest.” (22). Catholic schools need to have a “culture of care,” recognize the dignity of each person, and be attentive to the fabric of relationships. (36). These Gospel values should undergird the mission statements and should be the identifying feature of our schools.
  4. Process. Bloggers and journalists are already lining up to interpret this document in light of the Indianapolis controversy. Does it mean that a bishop can fire a teacher for failing to follow Church teachings? Be attentive to the process of visiting schools and granting Catholic identity given by the bishop to every Catholic school in the diocese. Chapter II focuses on the “actors” in Catholic schools and articulate the roles of each. The bishop’s role is spelled out in paragraph 59. While termination is seen as a “last resort” (80) it can be used by a bishop in diocesan schools (59i). However, subsidiarity would not grant the bishop the same power in an independent, private, or religious order Catholic schools. Although the call to be in dialogue might lead to that decision. If you think this sounds too abstract, look no further than this article detailing a controversy unfolding right now involving an independent Catholic school and its local bishop.
  5. The Way Forward. In paragraph 78, prescriptions for the future are offered which will capture and promote Catholic identity. “individual and collective self-assessment procedures within the institution, guidelines on desired quality standards, permanent formation courses and the promotion and strengthening of professional skills, incentives and rewards, and the collection, documentation and study of good practices.” Thus it would seem that a deliberate program of assessing and building Catholic identity should result.

I hope you take some time to read and study this latest document which should have significant impact on Catholic schools in the next decade.

This post will also appear in the April 5th Catholic School Matters newsletter