“The Catholic School at the heart of the Church.”
These words from the document “The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium” (1997) demonstrate just how important the ministry of Catholic education is to the Church. What do our hearts do for us? They pump blood to every extremity and send life-sustaining energy and oxygen to every cell in our bodies. If our hearts aren’t working properly, the rest of our body’s systems begin to shut down. Our hearts are essential to the functioning of the whole body. It’s much the same for our Catholic schools. Our Catholic schools bring life to the Church; they bring energy, youth and vigor. Our Catholic schools are critical to the Church’s evangelizing mission. As Archbishop Vigneron has reiterated time and time again: “Catholic schools are integral to the life of the Church. Our schools are not optional. They’re part of how we live our vocation as disciples of Jesus Christ.”
The core identity of the Catholic school and the clear articulation of its purpose and role in evangelization are well documented by the Church. Canon law, papal encyclicals and documents written by the Congregation for Catholic Education (CCE) expound upon the importance of the place that the Catholic school holds in the evangelizing efforts of the Church. These themes and ideas have been succinctly summarized by Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, the former secretary of the CCE, into five marks that characterize the identity of an authentically Catholic school. Our schools are inspired by a supernatural vision, founded on a Christian anthropology, animated by community and communion, imbued with a Catholic worldview and sustained by Gospel witness.
Inspired by a supernatural vision
The educational pursuits in a Catholic school are aimed at forming the mind and the soul of each child. Each person was created by God, in his image and likeness, to be loved and to love, and to be with him for eternity. Acquiring knowledge, skills, habits and dispositions are all part of the educational process — a process that is guided by this principle that God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. Students are being formed for freedom, orienting their pursuit of truth toward Jesus, who is truth.
A supernatural vision means that every action, effort and interaction in the Catholic school — from learning to read to creating art to advanced calculus — is done with our “eyes fixed on Jesus.” “Discovery and awareness of truth leads man to the discovery of Truth itself.” (“The Catholic School,” para. 41)
Founded on a Christian anthropology
At our baptism, we became children of God — joined to Christ and other Christians. Our deepest identity is as beloved children of God. The formation of the mind and body necessitates an understanding of what it means to be human. Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine, provides this understanding, as “He is the One Who ennobles man, gives meaning to human life, and is the Model which the Catholic school offers to its pupils.” (“TCS,” para. 35)
Animated by communion and community
Our school communities are composed of many people: priests, religious, parishioners, students, school faculty and staff, parents and extended family. It takes the effort, time, talent and support of many people for our Catholic schools to work. “The implementation of a real educational community, built on the foundation of shared projected values, represents a serious task that must be carried out by the Catholic school.” (“Educating Together in Catholic Schools,” para. 5) Our faith communities make Catholic schools possible, but our unity is deeper than just attending a particular school or church. Our intimate union with God in the holy Eucharist also unites us with the others in the body of Christ. This call to community and communion requires close collaboration and cooperation with everyone: between clergy, religious and lay faithful; between parents and school personnel; and between teachers and students.
Imbued with a Catholic worldview
Our Catholic faith must be present in every aspect of the school: in practice through daily prayer and regular reception of the sacraments, in every subject area, not just the direct instruction of religion, in every interaction that takes place, in every decision that’s made. The Gospel should be present in every aspect of the curriculum and indeed in our very pursuit of knowledge and truth. Our understanding of the inherent and inviolable dignity of every human person informs how we view history, the person sitting next to us and how we make decisions.
Sustained by Gospel witness
Priests, principals, teachers and staff share their very selves with one another and with their students as they live their vocation as Catholic educators. Those whose vocation it is to teach and lead children to know and love the Lord do more than teach students how to read and write and multiply: “The teacher does not write on inanimate material, but on the very spirits of human beings.” (“TCSTTM,” para. 19) They witness, by their lives of faith, their actions and their words, how the life-saving message of God’s mercy and love has transformed their own lives. “The nobility of the task to which teachers are called demands that, in imitation of Christ, the only teacher, they reveal the Christian message not only by word but also by every gesture of their behavior.” (“TCS,” para. 43)
These characteristics that we aspire to embody in our Catholic schools don’t happen by accident. Building an authentic Catholic culture takes significant prayer, formation, dedication, study and responsiveness to the Holy Spirit. These investments are worthwhile as we continue our efforts to unleash the Gospel through our Catholic schools.
Our Catholic schools are important to the families we serve, to the Church and to society. Our schools are places that are both set apart to be vibrant centers of evangelization where students and their families come to know and love Jesus Christ and are actively engaged in the sacramental life of the Church but also exist within the construct of contemporary society. The mission of the Catholic school is the mission of the Church: to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 18:19) as Jesus instructed the apostles at the great commission. What a privilege and opportunity we have in our schools to walk together with students, educators, parishioners, priests and religious and families on the path of discipleship, pursuing truth, beauty and goodness while acquiring knowledge, skills, habits and dispositions that all lead to truth himself: Jesus Christ.
Our schools aren’t an arm of the Church — they’re the very heart of the Church. The stronger and more vibrant our Catholic schools are, the stronger and more vibrant the Church herself. As we renew and strengthen our Catholic schools and work to ensure that the daily reality of our school communities embody these characteristics that the Church has so beautifully articulated, we foster an environment where we are better equipped to live as disciples of Jesus but also to go out — to share the love and mercy of Jesus Christ with everyone we meet so that “by leading an exemplary apostolic life [students] become, as it were, a saving leaven in the human community.” (“Gravissimum Educationis,” para. 8)
Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education. 2007. Educating Together
in Catholic Schools. https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_20070908_educare-
Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education. 1977. The Catholic School. Retrieved from https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_19770319_catholic-
Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education. 1997. The Catholic
School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium. Retrieved from
Vatican Council II. Gravissimum Educationis. 1965. Retrieved from