What makes for a healthy Catholic school?

This is the question our Diocesan Board of Catholic Education has been wrestling with this year. And, as you may guess, it is not an easy question! There are many different factors that contribute to our schools. But, as we’ve reflected on the question, we’ve settled on three key themes:

Catholicity “ This is the sum total of the Catholic identity of our schools. It starts with an identifiably Catholic environment “ crucifixes and statues in the classrooms, icons on the wall “ but can’t be confined to that. It also includes regular prayer, teachers and administrators who uphold the doctrines of the Church, recognition that we are part of a Church that is larger than our parish, and families that participate regularly in the Sunday Eucharist.

Expertise “ Because our schools are places of learning we need excellent educators to lead them. Teachers with state certification who are engaged in continuing catechetical formation; school boards with members who can contribute their knowledge and skills; principals committed to leading even in difficult times; all of these contribute to the shared knowledge and wisdom needed to help students achieve their potential.

Resources “ Of course, no program can run smoothly without adequate resources in place. This means tuition, of course, but it also means support from the parish as well as corporate and individual donors; the time and talent of volunteers; up-to-date textbooks and technology; and robust fundraising activities such as annual fund drives and auctions.

Which of these is the most important? While I’m tempted to say the first, the truth is that they are interdependent; a Catholic school cannot thrive without all three. A school with a foundation in the Church and a strong endowment, but without a solid curriculum or well-prepared teachers, will not graduate students ready for the next phase of their live. A school with excellent teachers and a vibrant faith life but no funding won’t keep its doors open long!

Our challenge is to keep all three pistons firing in order to maintain the œengine  of our schools.


The Catholic school does not lay claim to superiority

The Catholic school does not lay claim to superiority over another on purely secular lines, although in many cases its superiority is a very patent fact; it repudiates and denies charges to the effect that it is inferior, although this may be found in some cases to be true. It contends that it is equal to, as good as, any other; and there is no evidence why this should not be so. But it does pretend to give a more thorough education in the true sense of the word, if education really means a bringing out of that which is best in our nature.

Neither do we hold that such a training as our schools provide will assure the faith and salvation of the children confided to our care. Neither church, nor religion, nor prayer, nor grace, nor God Himself will do this alone. The child’s fidelity to God and its ultimate reward depends on that child’s efforts and will, which nothing can supply. But what we do guarantee is that the child will be furnished with what is necessary to keep the faith and save its soul, that there will be no one to blame but itself if it fails, and that such security it will not find outside the Catholic school. It is for just such work that the school is equipped, that is the only reason for its existence, and we are not by any means prepared to confess that our system is a failure in that feature which is its essential one.

– Rev. John H. Stapelton, Explanation of Catholic Morals (1913)

Video: Catechizing Digital Natives webinar

This is a video of the webinar I offered earlier this month on strategies for passing on the faith to the “net generation.” For further reading on this subject I have also compiled a list of books, useful articles and tools referenced in the video.

Catechizing Digital Natives from Jonathan Sullivan on Vimeo.

Upcoming Free Webinar: Catechizing Digital Natives

Next month I will be offering another webinar on technology and catechesis:

Today’s generation gap seems larger than ever. The students in our parishes and schools are comfortable with technologies that seemed like science fiction when many of us were growing up.

Given the radically different way that “digital natives” use technology to take in and process knowledge, what are the implications for the catechetical ministry of the Church? How can we reach out to them without compromising the Gospel? And what do teachers and catechists need to know about this “brave new world?”

This free webinar will seek to address these questions and help catechists, Catholic teachers, and youth ministers find ways to “bridge the gap.”

To register for this free webinar, choose one of the two sessions and follow the URL.

[Note: all times are Central Time]

You can also watch a recording of my last webinar, Social Networking: A Primer for Catholic Teachers and Catechists, at MyCatholicVoice.com.

photo by demi-brooke/flickrcc

Open Letter to Governor Pat Quinn

Dear Governor Quinn:

I am writing today on behalf of our diocese’s 11,323 school children to urge that you propose funding for the Illinois Textbook Loan Program in your 2011 budget.

The Textbook Loan Program has provided secular textbooks, learning materials and instructional computer software to public and nonpublic school students since 1975. Although most of the program’s funding goes to public schools, Catholic schools have long depended on this program and have used the benefit to continually update math, science, and reading textbooks, as well as to purchase new instructional software for technology labs. Students cannot learn or succeed without effective and up-to-date learning materials. The Textbook Loan Program has helped ensure those materials are present in all schools.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE) published analysis, the Textbook Loan program impacts 2.1 million students and 164,000 educators. In Fiscal Year 2009, the program provided 849,214 instructional items to pupils in grades 7 through 12. There are not many grant programs in ISBE’s budget that have had as far-reaching an impact for as long a time. ISBE’s strategic goals cite service to œall students  and œall schools.  Unfortunately, last year’s budget cut the Textbook Loan completely and failed to reflect similar concern.

I understand that the state’s fiscal condition is dire. I understand funding cuts must be endured in these difficult times. However, when a long-standing program with a proven track record faces elimination, Illinois’ entire education system suffers.

Governor Quinn, I urge you to recommend that ISBE’s budget restore funding at the 2007 level of $29.1 million. Such a recommendation recognizes the current fiscal condition of the state but also makes some attempt to meet the state’s obligation to provide sound, up-to-date instructional materials to all children.

Catholic schools provide great savings to the state of Illinois: $1.5 billion annually. We do not deserve to lose the limited state support given back.

Thank you for your attention and support.


Jonathan F. Sullivan
Director of Catechetical Ministries
Diocese of Springfield in Illinois