The Spiritual Role of the Principal

Posted on Posted in catechesis

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak with some of the new principals in our diocese as part of their ongoing formation. I talked briefly about the spiritual role that principals play in Catholic schools and what it means to be a spiritual leader.

This seems an important topic to me because, while principals may receive training in management, curriculum, and finances in their education programs, very few get formed in what it means to work in a specifically Catholic educational setting.

There is any number of topics that we could have talked about, but I distilled them into five points:

  1. The primary job of a Catholic school — and therefore the primary responsibility of the principal — is to build disciples for Christ. Everything else is secondary.
  2. Principals must encourage parents to assume their role as the primary catechists of their children. Parents cannot outsource religious instruction to schools or PSR programs. For better or for worse, children will follow their parents’ example.
  3. Principals are responsible for the spiritual formation of their staffs. This means more than just the occasional diocesan formation class; it means forming them through prayer, retreats, and spiritual reading, and inviting them to participate in the faith.
  4. As part of their oversight of curriculum, principals must ensure that the catechetical textbooks and materials used in their school conform to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
  5. Finally, principals must be an example of joyful faith and holiness to their staff, faculty, and students.

Admittedly this is a tall order! But, as spiritual leaders acting on behalf of their pastors and the Church, principals are responsible in assuring that our schools are not just placing of academic learning, but places where the faith is nurtured and students can become the saints they are called to be.

12 thoughts on “The Spiritual Role of the Principal

  1. Wow! That is incredible! What kind of response did you get? Was it good? I’d have to say, that is a very tall order. That is exactly what is needed though. I can only pray that our principals can live up to this. That would be putting us in the right direction. nnDo you have a plan for training principals to be these things? That seems like the next step.

    1. The response was mostly positive; I think most of our pastors do a good job of selecting faithful educators to be principals.nnAt our next new principal meeting we’ll be going back over the list and seeing what success and frustrations they have had in being a spiritual leader in their schools. Then we’ll identify resources that can help them.

  2. Good points. It strikes me that many of these same characteristics could also describe the role of the pastor. If we expect Catholic principals (and teachers) to be spiritual leaders, then they need similar formation to that of priests.

    1. Good point, Nick. Since principals work on behalf of their pastors, it would make sense for them to be on the same page when it comes to the spiritual well-being of the school. I wonder how many pastors take the time to talk about these issues with their principals on a regular basis? (Besides bemoaning the state of Catholic students’ attendance at Sunday Eucharist?)

  3. “Principals are responsible for the spiritual formation of their staffs.”rnrnGood Lord, I’m just a catechist, but consider it my responsibility, not the DRE’s, to tend to my spiritual formation.

    1. Christian,nnI probably could have worded that more clearly. I have no argument; we are all, ultimately, responsible for our participation in the life of the Church.nnBut as administrators acting on behalf of the Church, principals are responsible to make sure that their teachers are doing so — through programs of formation that are required by the diocese or parish, for instance, but also by making sure meetings begin with prayer, scheduling faculty retreats, etc.

    2. Superb post Jonathan. Christian, I know what you mean and on one level you’re correct. Each of us is responsible for our own formation. That being said, a leader takes upon him/herself the additional responsibility of modeling, providing, supervising and holding accountable fac/staff in the formation process. Perhaps priests and others involved in the hiring process should be more mindful of that in the search/hiring process and make that expectation clear when they do hire.

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