The Idea of a Catholic School

With so much distraction in today’s ever changing intellectual landscape, having a simple thought may seem difficult. At times, we may dare to think that no one else understands us and thus the center of the entire universe only rests in us. Fortunately, the great Doctor of the Church St. Francis De Sales has something to say about this mode of thinking. In his spiritually piercing work, An Introduction to the Devout Life , he comments on how we are to look at our creation as means of placing ourselves in the presence of Christ.

God did not create you because He had any need of you, for you are wholly useless to Him, but only that He might exercise towards you His goodness, bestowing on you His grace and glory. To accomplish this, He has given you an understanding to know Him, a memory to remember Him, a will to love Him, an imagination to recall His mercies, eyes to see the wonders of His works, a tongue to praise Him, and so with all your other faculties (Book X).

This striking mini-tome crafts the very purpose of our creation as St. Francis De Sales tells us. The essential point here is that we are created for the good of God. It is like the old spiritual adage: "God doesn’t make junk; I’m lovable." In reality, our very creation resonates with a love that is unique to our Father alone because of His infinite goodness.

One Young Man’s Experience

Understanding this saving reality draws me to a conversation I had with a dear friend of mine. He shared with me the daily moral challenges his son was facing during his first year in college. Not a day went by where my friend’s son was not  chastised for either being a faithful Catholic, defending the moral teachings of the Church, or mocked for not acquiescing to certain behaviors others engaged in.

One incident that typified the continual onslaught was "orientation night" for freshmen. As a way of "welcoming" the incoming class and at the same time helping them "relax", a stand-up comedian was brought in as the main evening entertainment. Without getting into specifics the comedian was less than virtuous and charitable with the content of his act. He noticed that my friend’s son was not at all amused. The comedian brought his son up on stage and bluntly asked him if there was a problem with his act. This brave young man then took the opportunity to tell the comedian he found his act morally offensive, demeaning to women, and degrading to God. Unfortunately the comedian did not take these comments well and proceeded to chastise this brave young man for his opinionated faith.

Authenticity

What kept this young man’s faith so strong? The primary answers rests in his Catholic upbringing. The Church has always reminded us that parents are first the primary educators of our children. (Gravissimum Educationis , 6) Now, I value the relationship my friend and I have because we are fathers whose mission is to prepare our children to engage the world through their Catholic faith. We share a prudent, common-sense look at the world and constantly discuss how our children will handle the rigors of the world through their faith. Knowing the Church is under a constant attack in various ways, we are keenly aware of the armor (Eph 6:10-20) our children must take on to effectively witness and evangelize the faith to others.

The Basis for a Catholic Curriculum

A second answer to the question I stated above rests in an effective Catholic School program, hence the Idea of a Catholic school . Many people in various circles Catholic or otherwise may argue that Catholic Schools in the United States have strayed from their Catholic identity, especially in doctrinal formation. However, I have seen and foresee a renewal in Catholic school education. My friend’s son benefited from a Catholic school environment whose purpose is to promote and teach the Catholic faith. Catholic schools strive to be beacons of hope .

The aim of the Catholic school where this young man attended was very clear; develop the student to view the world through a Catholic lens. A Catholic school curriculum should expose the student to one, know what is happening in the world; two , instruct on the supernatural history of the world; three , instruct on Divine History; and four ; instruct in Human development. The aim of these four points is to direct the student to a sacred history. The sacredness of this history rests in Jesus Christ. If we can get our students to understand these points, hopefully they will see how their own personal living is part of the Divine history of God. In other words, the student will see the hand of God throughout history thus witnessing and living a true Christian humanism forged in the Son of God.

We desire sound instruction for the soul of the student. If it is not, then the example of my friend’s son quite possibly may have turned another direction. The education of the soul is at the heart of a Catholic School. The General Directory for Catechesis establishes this point very clearly.

It is necessary, therefore, that religious instruction in a Catholic school appear as a scholastic discipline with the same systematic demands and the same rigor as other disciplines. It must present the Christian message and the Christian event with the same seriousness and the same depth with which other disciplines present their knowledge.  It should not be an accessory alongside of these disciplines, but rather it should engage in a necessary interdisciplinary dialogue (73).

Echoing this position, Pope Benedict XVI during his April 2008 visit to the United States addressed this same theme to Catholic Educators at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. He expressed the particular responsibility of every Catholic educator "to evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life that follows from this belief."

The Idea of a Catholic School

The "Idea of a Catholic School" has a mission to transform the soul. Faith and Reason coexist in this equation. Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman in his masterpiece "The Idea of University" comments that; "Nature and Grace, Reason and Revelation come from the same Divine Author whose works cannot contradict one another (240). As Catholic educators, the "moment" of conversion for our students begins the moment they come into our classrooms and we view "Heaven" as the primary aim for the "souls" of these children. Everything else will fall into place. Amen.

By

Have served in the field of Catechesis as a teacher and administrator for the last fourteen years at the Parish, High School and Diocesan levels.

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  • http://www.catechesisinthethirdmillennium.wordpress.com liveit2day

    Marlon,

    Something I hear more frequently than I desire is that the Catholic School’s do a fairly good job of presenting content (both solid and weak) but the challenge seems to be is to draw students to authentic conversion. This is the challenge that is so key if students, like the one you mentioned, are going to remain firm in their faith after leaving home.
    In Christ,
    William O’Leary

  • Greg Fazzari

    Marlon – thanks for a great article. Cathlic schools are needed now more than ever. It is discouraging to note that at a time of relative prosperity, we no longer can find the conviction to keep our Catholic Schools open. There is no doubt that Catholic schools have struggled along with the rest of the Church in the U.S. these past 3 decades. But Catholic schools are worth fighting for. I too see a new springtime emerging for Catholic schools.

  • hanley18106

    Thanks for this article. We are currently considering Catholic school for our son, and I have had some reservations about whether we would be just paying for a secular education with a “Catholic” label slapped on it. The conversion part is key, and I have no idea if that conversion will happen as a result of the educators in the Catholic school. We are doing what we can at home to help that conversion happen…it would be reassuring to know that the educators at the school are on the same page with us toward that end. This article gives me hope that Catholic schools are showing signs they want to keep their special identity…rather than just become another secular educational institution.

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