Our schools are communities of faith

  • August 6, 2008

Dear Readers,

{mosimage}Among Pope Benedict’s many thought-provoking speeches during his spring visit to the United States was a particularly important one on Catholic education. Though it received some coverage, the Pope’s insights into the role of Catholic schools were too often lost among the attention given to the most visual and spectacular aspects of his visit.

Yet, the talk — delivered April 17 at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC — deserves better. For this reason, we’ve decided to use the opportunity of our August education supplement to publish the entire text.

Though Pope Benedict was talking to many university educators, he included those who ran elementary and high schools in his remarks. For Benedict, Catholic education is a continuum from a child’s earliest years right through university. As such, the basic religious foundation for the Catholic school is the same, regardless of whether it is an institution of higher learning or a ground for basic learning.

“A university or school’s Catholic identity is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students. It is a question of conviction — do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22)? Are we ready to commit our entire self-intellect and will, mind and heart — to God? Do we accept the truth Christ reveals? Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools? Is it given fervent expression liturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts of charity, a concern for justice and respect for God’s creation? Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning of who we are and what we uphold,” the Pope said.

Catholic schools are not just classrooms and teachers, students and books, lessons in mathematics and science, with a little religion thrown to give the enterprise a Catholic gloss. No, the schools themselves are communities of faith: offering their students an authentic experience of not just learning the truth, but living it.

“Clearly, then,” His Holiness added, “Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics. Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content. It demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith. Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom (cf. Spe Salvi, 23). In this way our institutions make a vital contribution to the mission of the church and truly serve society. They become places in which God’s active presence in human affairs is recognized and in which every young person discovers the joy of entering into Christ’s ‘being for others’ (cf. ibid., 28).”

Such high ideals may seem a long way off at this time of year as parents are scurrying to pick up school supplies, uniforms and getting schedules straight. But, as we wade through the myriad little chores that make up the educational enterprise, it is worth reminding ourselves that our Catholic schools aspire to loftier purposes than churning out successful students. They are engaged in a project of much greater import: preparing faith-filled citizens who can take up their rightful responsibilities in society and bring God’s love to others through the example of their own lives.

We need to keep this notion front and centre, especially at a time when others question the very need for state support for Catholic education. So read on and ponder the Pope’s words, along with our other articles on some dimensions of Catholic education in Canada. You’ll find the exercise quite profitable.

God bless,

Joseph Sinasac
Publisher and Editor

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