United In Your Praise: Non-Catholic Teachers and Catholic Schools

Last weekend at our Diocesan Adult Enrichment Conference I gave a breakout session on our diocese’s expectations of Christians from other traditions who teach in our Catholic schools. This is a question we often get from principals and teachers; I was very pleased to have the opportunity to address the issue and thankful for the warm reception of what could be a controversial subject.

This short video offers an overview of what I told those who attended the breakout session:

Notes – Catholic Schools: Centers of the New Evangelization

Today I’m at the National Catholic Educational Association’s Convention and Expo in Pittsburgh giving a presentation entitled “Catholic Schools: Centers of the New Evangelization.” Below are my notes and materials from the presentation as well as links to additional resources. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter where I’ll be posting notes, thoughts, and pictures from the conference!

Presentation

Notes

Resources

#CatholicEdChat: Or How I Spent my Saturday Morning

appleThis past Saturday I had the pleasure of moderating the weekly #CatholicEdChat on Twitter. I was joined by Catholic educators from around the country for a one-hour real-time discussion on Catholic schools and the New Evangelization.

We had a great conversation; Nancy Caramanico was good enough to compile an archive of the event and list some of the resources recommended during the chat.

Thanks to Nancy for the invitation and to everyone who joined us! #CatholicEdChat is held every Saturday morning at 8a (CT) on Twitter. Just look for the hashtag!

Webinar Video: How to Write a News Release for Your Ministry

Today my office sponsored a free webinar on writing news releases on behalf of your school, parish, or ministry. The webinar was led by Kathie Sass, director of communications for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, and it includes very helpful tips and advice for crafting releases that will appeal to the secular news media.

Kathie was also kind enough to provide the slides she used during her presentation:

“This is what education is all about…”

I have been told that most of you come from Catholic high schools. For this reason I would like to say something about Catholic education, to tell you why the Church considers it so important and expends so much energy in order to provide you and millions of other young people with a Catholic education. The answer can be summarized in one word, in one person, Jesus Christ. The Church wants to communicate Christ to you.

This is what education is all about, this is the meaning of life: to know Christ. To know Christ as a friend: as someone who cares about you and the person next to you, and all the people here and everywhere ”no matter what language they speak, or what clothes they wear, or what color their skin is.

And so the purpose of Catholic education is to communicate Christ to you, so that your attitude toward others will be that of Christ. You are approaching that stage in your life when you must take personal responsibility for your own destiny. Soon you will be making major decisions which will affect the whole course of your life. If these decisions reflect Christ’s attitude, then your education will be a success. We have to learn to meet challenges and even crises in the light of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection. Part of our Catholic education is to learn to see the needs of others, to have the courage to practice what we believe in. With the support of a Catholic education we try to meet every circumstance of life with the attitude of Christ. Yes, the Church wants to communicate Christ to you so that you will come to full maturity in him who is the perfect human being, and, at the same time, the Son of God.

– Pope John Paul II, Address to High School Students at Madison Square Gardens (October , 1979)

Free Grant Writing Webinars for Catholic Organizations

My office is offering three free webinars on grant writing for Catholic organizations. Each webinar will cover a different facet of the grant writing process and will include two handouts for participants. Kristin Olsen of grantsgalore.net will be our presenter.

The topics and dates are:

Grant Writing: An Overview
Thursday, October 20, 9a (CT)
Register at https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/873292987

Grant Writing: Cultivating Prospective Grantmakers
Thursday, October 27, 9a (CT)
Register at https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/909622466

Grant Writing: The Finishing Touches
Thursday, November 17,  9a (CT)
Register at https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/809406395

These webinars are free to anyone interested in learning how to write and submit grants for their Catholic school, parish, or ministry.

Catholic or Private?

A few weeks ago, during a curriculum standards meeting, one of our principals related the following incident:

A prospective parent called the school to get information about enrolling their child. During the course of the conversation the woman said that she wanted “a good private education” for her child. The secretary (God bless her!) replied that they have “a very good Catholic school.” Undeterred, the mother reiterated again: “Well, I just want a good private education for my child.”

Somewhere along the way people have got the idea that Catholic education is private education. This is, I believe, a dangerous misconception, for it implies two things which go against the nature and purpose of a Catholic school.

1. Catholic schools are non-exclusive.

Private schools are by their very nature exclusive; some people are allowed in, others are not, usually on the basis of some sort application process. This is not to say that they don’t value diversity or offer scholarships to students who cannot afford the tuition, but the assumption is that students have to earn their way into the school.

Catholic schools, on the other hand, welcome all. At their best, Catholic schools reflect the communities in which they are situated. This includes race, ethnicity, special educational needs, and socio-economic status. Tuition must be paid, of course, but I have seen Catholic schools bend over backwards to provide scholarships for students who could not otherwise afford to go to the school.

This committment is even reflected in educational policies. In our own diocese we have an unfortunate history of racism (including some so-called “sundown towns”) which actually led the diocese to enact a policy forbidding parents from using Catholic schools as a means of de facto segregation. The focus for the Catholic school should be on inclusion whenever possible, and avoiding an air of  privilege  or partiality.

2. Catholic schools are focused on discipleship, not matriculation.

Catholic schools, like many private schools, have a reputation for academic excellence — and rightly so! Students from these schools have higher rates of college attendance and higher SAT scores than students from public schools.

Yet, for Catholic schools, this isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) the main focus. The main focus is on creating disciples for Christ. Catholic schools are a tool for evangelization and catechiesis, not an alternative means of secular education. Catholic schools prepare students to live as Christians in a world that, too often, is  ambivalent  or hostile to faith. This means that, before anything else, schools must encourage their students to build habits of virtue, participation in the faith, and prayer if their faith is to survive after leaving school.

Education in history, science, math, and the like are a part of that preparation, but only with an eye towards a lived faith.  Indeed, this focus should be so unrelenting that, if things were to get drastic enough, I would rather see Catholic schools toss out math and reading than their religious curriculum!

If Catholic schools are to survive into the 21st century, they must be clear on who they serve and what they seek to accomplish. Allowing a perception of “private” education to creep into the public’s perception of our identity is, I believe, counterproductive to our survival and our goal.

photo by mertala/FlickrCC

Homeschooling and the Local Parish

Our Sunday Visitor has an interesting story up on the tension between Catholic homeschoolers and Catholic schools. I was very interested to read the article since my family has been living with this tension this past school year — a tension made more acute due to my position with the diocese. (Catholic schools are part of the office I direct.)

I encourage you to read the whole article (and OSV’s remarks on the feedback they’ve  received). In this post I want to focus on remarks made by  Father Peter M.J. Stravinskas, executive director of the  Catholic Education Foundation:

There are several reasons to prefer Catholic schools, Father Stravinskas told Our Sunday Visitor, including that the Church Fathers made clear that catechesis is the job of the whole Church, with the main responsibility resting on the shoulders of the pastor, not the parents.

And Catholic parents who choose to home-school when there is a Catholic school available at least implicitly send the message that they do not trust the Church to educate their children properly, and the children get that message.

“On the same property where they go to church on Sunday is a school where the parents don’t wish to send them,” he said.

That leads to a subtle anti-clericalism, he said, because the children learn that priests cannot be counted on to hand on the faith. It shows in what he sees as a dearth of vocations from home-school families. “Why would you want to join the club if its members can’t be trusted to their jobs?” he said.

I’m not sure that this necessarily follows; there are many reasons to choose to homeschool, not all of which pertain to the perceived merits or deficits of the local parish. The homeschooling families we’ve met this past year are extremely loyal to their parish and their pastor; no one has mentioned any concerns about doctrine or orthodoxy to me.

Our family chose homeschooling for a number of reasons, including the fact that our second child, who was slated to begin kindergarten, was already reading chapter books the summer prior. On top of that was my wife’s increasing dissatisfaction with her job situation and a desire to remain at home with our younger children.

But a primary reason for our decision was our firm belief, informed by the teachings of the Church, that parents are the primary catechists of their children. Pace Fr.  Stravinskas, it is not my pastor’s duty to educate my children in the faith. That duty belongs to my wife and I, assisted by the Church. Homeschooling has brought this into stark focus for us. I won’t speak for my wife, but I certainly feel more engaged in my children’s education that I did before,  precisely  because we have taken more ownership of it. Which is not to say that the teachers educating our children before this year made us feel left out or in the dark. But there is a difference in the type of engagement we have now.

All of that having been said, I do believe that dioceses have a role in setting up guidelines and policies for how homeschooling parents connect with parishes, particularly when children come for to  receive  the sacraments. Pastors have the duty to ensure that children are properly formed before receiving  Confirmation or First Communion. But I also believe dioceses can do more to support homeschooling parents and provide them with resources and guidance in the catechetical formation of their children. I will be working in the next few years to develop this more in my diocese and will be sure to report the results here.

What Does the Book of Acts Tell Us About Catholic Education?

One of my favorite parts of the Easter season (pilfering jelly beans from my kids’ baskets aside) is the readings from the Acts of the Apostles we hear proclaimed at Mass.  Acts tells us the story of the early Church “ how, after the Lord’s Ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the apostles “did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” to the Jews and the Gentiles (5:42). We are told that “many of those who heard the word believed” (4:4) and the “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (5:14).

We are also told of the great deeds done by these believers: miraculous healings (3:7; 5:16) and speaking in tongues (2:4-6), yes, but also providing for widows and the poor (4:32; 6:1ff) and proclaiming Christ even in the face of martyrdom (7:59-60; 12:2-3).

So what does the Book of Acts have to tell us about Catholic schools?

As our bishop, Thomas John Paprocki, stated so well in his homily at our recent Principals’ Leadership Conference, the purpose of Catholic schools is not to impart academic knowledge or focus on the “Three Rs.” If that was our purpose there would be no difference between Catholic schools and public schools.  Similarly, the faith-based character of our schools is not simply an “add-on,” something tacked on to the public school model.

Rather, the imparting of the faith — the preaching of the Gospel in word and in deed — is at the very heart and purpose of our Catholic schools. Like the early disciples, our task is to preach Christ to our students and show them through our works what it means to take on the name “Christian.”  We are charged with building up our students to be disciples for Christ. Everything else, no matter how valuable or important in the secular world, is secondary to that charge.

As you listen to the readings from the Acts of the Apostles over the next weeks, pay attention to how the early Church worked to spread the Gospel. It was hard work (and dangerous!) but they persevered with charity and joy. We are called to imitate these saints and martyrs by passing on this faith to those in our care — to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19) and build up the Body of Christ.