The Spiritual Role of the Principal

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.

Aging, Prayer, and the Divine Office

Statue: angel prayingIt’s been a while since I took “Spirituality and Human Development,” but one of the themes I recall from the class is that our spirituality and prayer life change as we age. The accumulation of experience allows us to gain new insights into the divine and opens us to new ways of communicating with God; this, of course, has an affect on our relationship to God.

This has hit home for me a few times in my life. A year after completing my graduate studies I found myself engaging in new types of prayer — particularly an increased use of the Rosary and a greater sense of efficacy in my silent prayer. At first I was uncertain why I was being drawn in this direction (beyond my generation’s general reappropriation of older faith practices). Eventually it dawned on me: while in college and graduate school I had used my studies as the foundation for my prayer life. Indeed, there is a long history in the Church of study as prayer (to such an extent that Dominican friars are excused from communal prayer if engaged in study). Following my master’s degree and subsequent exit from higher education, my prayer life dried up for about a year as I “re-learned” how to pray. Since I was no longer spending significant time immersed in the study of scripture, Church history, morality, and the like, my normal avenue for prayer had been cut off.

While this was undoubtedly painful, it also proved to be a great blessing as it opened me to new ways of prayer that I did not have the time or energy to devote to before.

Lately, after nearly a decade of fits and starts, I’ve gotten into a general rhythm of using the Liturgy of the Hours. I’m not as consistent as I would like, but most morning and many evenings I take 10-15 minutes to pray Lauds and Vespers. I’ve not yet gotten into the habit of adding Compline, but I am working towards it.

Nevertheless, and in spite of the inconsistent nature of its application, the effect has been profound: I’ve notice a real change in my temperament and attitude when I begin the day with Morning Prayer, and a stronger resistance to temptation when I’m consistent for several days in a row. In particular I find myself dealing with my children in a more patient manner — something, my wife likes to remind me, that I need to work on.

As before, I’m not sure why it is that, at this particular moment in my life, this type of prayer has suddenly “clicked.” But unlike before I haven’t lost the types of prayer that I relied on previously. I still pray the Rosary and still find comfort in silent prayer. What I am experiencing now is a wider embrace of prayer types, not a replacing of the old.

The Second Vatican Council teaches that “the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office,” for “all who render this service are not only fulfilling a duty of the Church, but also are sharing in the greatest honor of Christ’s spouse, for by offering these praises to God they are standing before God’s throne in the name of the Church their Mother.” (Sacrosanctum concilium, n. 100, 85) I am still discovering just what this mean, but I am thankful that, at this time in my life, the Liturgy of the Hours has been such a source of strength and a means of increasing virtue in my life. I pray, too, that it will continue to do so as I continue to grow in love and knowledge of God.