Students pray at the opening of the school year at Catholic University of America. Faith must remain a part of Catholic education, educators said at a recent discussion on a Vatican document on the identity of Catholic schools. CNS photo

Faith must remain in Catholic education

  • March 3, 2023

In a recent discussion analyzing a Vatican document on the identity of Catholic schools, Matt Hoven highlighted the common yet “problematic” viewpoints circulating within current-day Catholic education.

The professor at Edmonton’s St. Joseph’s College pinpointed four deleterious attitudes in particular during the Zoom meeting that examined and discussed the 2022 Vatican document “The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue.”   

Hoven noted a reductive view which “reduces Catholicity to liturgical occasions,” a juridical view which focuses on legal status and governance according to canonical norms, a charismatic view which “poorly defines the term Catholic spirit,” and lastly, a narrow view which proposes that there isn’t “room in Catholic schools for those who are not totally Catholic.” 

“Right now, there are conflicting perceptions of Catholic identity and what that looks like in educational institutions. The impetus for the document is to study how Catholic educational institutions work in a changing milieu. The document is here to respond to a crisis, righting the divisions we see today,” said Hoven, whose academic work focuses on studying the connections between education and religion.

The evening discussion tried to get at the heart of the Vatican document — penned by the Congregation for Catholic Education, the pontifical section of the Roman Curia responsible for institutions of higher education — analyzing its “place within Church teaching, and how it acts as a practical tool to address the religious identity of Catholic schools amidst rapid social change tied to globalization and intercultural dialogue.”

Max Engel, associate professor at Creighton University — an American Jesuit school with campuses located in Arizona, Nebraska and the Dominican Republic — highlighted the importance of “good formation in our Catholic schools.”

“Schools are an essential part of the Church’s mission and vision,” said Engel. “However, there is an increased number of Catholics who are disgruntled about the faith — and our schools are taking from that pool of people to act as teachers and instructors. We need good formation.” 

Dr. Eugenia Pagnotta-Kowalczyk, the “Synod on Synodality” coordinator for the Archdiocese of Edmonton, observed themes of “synodality” in the 2022 Vatican document, remarking that even its title “outlines the dialogue that is present in the Synod.” 

Pagnotta-Kowalczyk also emphasized the importance of the Catholic education vocation. 

“Through the Synod we heard that Catholic schools play a sort of ‘tug of war’ with secular society,” she said. “We see a secular culture trying to steal the souls of our children.”

It’s up to Catholic educators, she said, to maintain the focus on the faith in Catholic schools.

“We cannot lose the Catholicity of our Catholic school. Our role as educators and as Catholic schools is to bring children closer to Christ. Catholic schools need to bring students and their families to Heaven.” 

The event was hosted by St. Joseph’s, a liberal arts academy within the University of Alberta.

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