Fr. James T. Mulligan, C.S.C., published a new book on the key relationships between parishes and Catholic schools. Photo courtesy of Novalis

Parish, school co-operation is essential to the Church

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  • May 3, 2015

Fr. James Mulligan sees the collaboration between school and parish as an essential component of Catholic education existence.

And with the spread of secularization across nearly all the facilities of contemporary Western society, the need for parish and school to work hand-in-hand is increasing, he said. This poses a challenge for both priests and educators, yet also offers a gift to all those involved with Catholic education.

“The challenge is for parish and Catholic schools to intentionally increase their collaboration for the sake of the Gospel,” said the former Catholic educator. “The gift is in the joy and excitement when positive collaboration is realized.”

In doing so schools serve students not only with the formal academic education mandated by the government but also offer a formation experience. While this occurs at all grade levels, Mulligan said it is during the early years when sacramental preparation occurs where this relationship is most critical.

“The Catholic school (system is) a wonderful way of sharing faith in Jesus Christ and introducing kids to the richness of our Catholic tradition as a beautiful way that leads to Jesus and to the things of Jesus’ kingdom,” he said. “The Catholic school is such a wonderful instrument for evangelization. It is an enduring gift.”

To help spread this message Mulligan penned A Pastor’s Journal: Catholic Parishes and Schools Working Together, which was recently published by Novalis. The book contains both a chronological account of Mulligan’s time as an educator as well as five reflections towards the back of the book, all of which seek to affirm Catholic education as a gift.

But he admits not everyone sees the current state of Catholic education as a gift. The most troubling of those critics for Mulligan are his fellow priests, several of whom feel schools no longer adequately prepare young parishioners to be confirmed Catholics.

“Some clergy and some parishes are suspicious about the Catholic identity of the Catholic school,” he said. “A split, almost a territorial division, exists between the parish and the school (from this). Such a split is counterproductive to the evangelization that is called for today.”

Mulligan said he sees the root of this as a blindness to the gift of Catholic education as an instrument of the Church.

“Clergy who insist that all sacramental preparation be done in the parish without any co-operation from the teachers in the schools can be another expression of this lack of clerical confidence in the Catholic schools,” he said.

And that attitude threatens Catholic education, he said, as it pushes the Catholicity out of the classroom.
Although critical of his colleagues who think this way, Mulligan sympathizes with their position.

“There are cases where the principal representing the Catholic school has very little understanding of the centrality of parish in the life of the Church,” Mulligan said.

The truth of this statement should not give reason for clergy to turn their back on Catholic education for it is those donning Roman collars who can curb the decline of Catholicity in the schools and preserve the faith-based education system, he concluded.  

“Every teacher in the Catholic school has some formation as a Catholic teacher ... (and) that initial formation as a Catholic teacher needs further formation,” he said.

“This is where the parish comes in. The Catholic school cannot define itself independently of the parish; it must be seen as working in harmony and in co-operation with the parish.”

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