Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service
Sister Ellen Rose Coughlin, SSJ
Superintendent of Schools
Rigor is a common topic today in education circles. Parents, teachers and school administrators want children and young people to be offered the very best in education theory and practice. They want strong standards, expressing age appropriate expectations or goals for students to achieve as they prepare for life. Rigor, including higher level thinking skills, more problem solving, more reading, writing, speaking and listening; deeper understanding of mathematical concepts to support problem solving for real life application, is a concept used to describe recent education standards and expectations.
Without denying the importance of a rigorous academic program, the annual celebration of Catholic Schools Week, prompts me to address the vigor of our Catholic school programs. An excellent Catholic school provides a rigorous academic curriculum that integrates faith and knowledge. The vigor – energy, vitality, enthusiasm, strength, spirit, dynamism – of our Catholic faith is the distinctive mark of our Catholic schools. Academic rigor without the vigor of our Catholic faith does not describe a Catholic school.
When Benedict XVI spoke to Catholic school administrators during his apostolic visit to the United States he told us that Catholic schools are places where students encounter the living God in Jesus Christ. I think Benedict’s description of a Catholic school is beautiful and awe-inspiring. At the same time, however, it is challenging. A Catholic school is true to its mission when it is a place where students meet Christ.
Being a Christian is not a lofty idea, speculation, abstract knowledge or a theory. Pope Francis reminds us that a Christian is one who has encountered love in the person of Jesus Christ. When this encounter blossoms into an enriching friendship with Christ the person is liberated from narrowness and self-absorption and becomes more fully human. (Cf. The Joy of the Gospel, 3 & 8).
Question: How does a school become a place where students meet Christ?
Answer: When it maintains and strengthens its Catholic identity.
Catholic identity includes: a supernatural vision of the human person that recognizes that each and every person, made in the image and likeness of God, has an eternal destiny; a commitment to the education of the whole person wherein Christ is formed in the students and His teachings assimilated; a school community animated by the presence of Christ and sustained by Christ-like teamwork among teachers and administrators, teachers with students and students among themselves that reaches out beyond itself in service to others; an education program and environment inspired and guided by the Gospels, the rich heritage of our Catholic faith and the teachings of the Church.
When I think about our Catholic schools my mind goes immediately to the people who support and serve in them, the principals, teachers, parish priests and staff. They, in many respects, embody the Catholic school. They pass on the vigor – the energy and vitality, the spirit and strength – of our Catholic faith. They are the credible witnesses who teach not only by what they say but especially by who they are and how they live. God bless them and our Catholic schools.
If you would like to personally experience the unique character of a Catholic school, please call the school principal in your area and arrange a visit. Please pray for our schools. These are challenging times in which to sustain Catholic schools. But as Blessed John Paul II reminded us they are an invaluable gift to the Church and to the nation. They are well worth our efforts and sacrifices.