The Call to Lead: Educational Leadership According to Catholic Church Documents

Table of Contents

Introduction
Catholic Educational Leadership – Answering the Call
Citations: Catholic Educational Leadership – Answering the Call
Catholic Educational Leaders Fulfill the Mission of Catholic Education
Citations: Catholic Educational Leaders Fulfill the Mission
The Spiritual Dimension of Catholic Educational Leadership
Citations: The Spiritual Dimension of Catholic Educational Leadership
The Professional Dimension of Catholic Educational Leadership
Citations: The Professional Dimension of Catholic Educational Leadership
Catholic Educational Leaders – The Call to Witness
Citations: Catholic Educational Leaders – The Call to Witness
Required Formation of Catholic Educational Leaders
Citations: Required Formation of Catholic Educational Leaders
Conclusion
Questions for Reflection
References

Introduction

The Call to Lead draws upon Church documents published since the Second Vatican Council to consider essential aspects of leadership in Catholic education. These aspects include answering the call to leadership, commitment to the mission of Catholic education, the spiritual and professional dimensions of leadership, Gospel witness, and the formation needed to assume the role of faith leader.

This review is intended primarily to assist Catholic school principals, but it has clear implications for other academic and program leaders, directors and trustees, and diocesan officials who oversee Catholic education. While it draws upon Church documents focused on elementary and secondary education, postsecondary leaders will find that much applies to their roles in colleges and universities as well.

Throughout much of the history of Catholic education, diocesan priests and various religious congregations guided a school’s culture, identity, and mission. Clergy and religious held most full-time administrative and faculty positions and integrated religious education and practices to ensure strong Catholic identity.

In the years following Vatican II, American Catholic education experienced a steady transition to lay teachers and leaders. By 2016, less than 3 percent of full-time professional staff were clergy and religious. The new challenge of properly forming lay teachers and leaders has made it necessary for the Church to discern and prescribe qualities of school leadership, once previously assumed in the leadership roles of clergy and religious. The result is a richer understanding of how the school leader upholds and advances the mission of Catholic education.

The role of the Catholic principal as faith leader was highlighted in Sharing the Light of Faith (1979), where the United States bishops elaborated on the relationship between Catholic identity, administrative leadership, and ways for realizing the Church’s mission for Catholic education.

Documents in the 1980s began to highlight the ecclesial, spiritual, and pastoral dimensions of school leadership required of the laity who were now more involved in leadership roles within Catholic schools:

The lay Catholic educator is a person who exercises a specific mission within the Church by living, in faith, a secular vocation in the communitarian structure of the school: with the best possible professional qualifications, with an apostolic intention inspired by faith, for the integral formation of the human person, in a communication of culture, in an exercise of that pedagogy which will give emphasis to direct and personal contact with students, giving spiritual inspiration to the educational community of which he or she is a member, as well as to all the different persons related to the educational community. To this lay person, as a member of this community, the family and the Church entrust the school’s educational endeavor (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1982, 24).

The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (1988) elaborated on guidelines for Catholic education, acknowledged the movement of laity into leadership positions, and encouraged the development of formation programs necessary to ensure that administrators obtain training comparable to religious. Research highlighted the urgency for programs to prepare Catholic school administrators and the shortage of educational leaders who understood the concepts of theological and spiritual leadership.

From the late 1990s, Church documents emphasized the relationship between faithful Catholic leadership and Catholic identity, expressed the need for preparation and formation, and linked those who served in these positions to the long-term viability of Catholic education. It became clear by this time that Catholic education leaders needed to be experienced in the professional dimension, but even more critical, they need to have an understanding and commitment to the Church’s expectations for Catholic education.

At the turn of the century, the Congregation for Catholic Education acknowledged the important role of lay administrators in evangelization, building Christian community, and pastoral care in The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium (1997).

Eight years later, referring to a “crisis in education,” the United States bishops expressed the need to prepare Catholic educational leaders in Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium (2005).

The preparation and ongoing formation of new administrators and teachers is vital if our schools are to remain truly Catholic in all aspects of school life. Catholic school personnel should be grounded in a faith-based Catholic culture, have strong bonds to Christ and the Church, and be witnesses to the faith in both their words and actions.

And in his 2008 address to Catholic educators in the United States, Pope Benedict XVI stated:

Teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church’s Magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution’s life, both inside and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual, or spiritual.

In 2015, the United States bishops identified leadership as a priority for the future of Catholic education:

Clarity of vision and strong leaders formed in the faith are critical to establishing a rich Catholic culture in the Catholic school. Being academically excellent is critical and necessary but not sufficient. The schools whether primary and secondary or colleges and universities must be fully Catholic. Formation of this kind would include pastors, administrators, teachers and all those serving in the Catholic schools. Faith formation that includes individual formation in prayer, sacramental life, Scripture, doctrine, and knowledge of the nature and purpose of Catholic education would appear to be component parts of the formation of future leaders and teachers.

Some dioceses have established foundations that pay for formation of leaders and teachers during the school year. Other dioceses have partnerships with diocesan programs, associations, academic institutes and Catholic higher education to offer formation and education to teachers and staff. Bishops and pastors should be actively engaged in identifying and forming present and future leaders in the schools.

Some dioceses have established certificate and degree programs for future administrators and superintendents. Creating interest and incentive in education for the future is critical to long-term viability and success of the colleges, universities and schools. In addition to programs of training, there should be an intentional and emphasis on the sacramental and spiritual lives of the future leaders (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2015, III, B, a).

Catholic leaders are required not only to be adept in areas associated with operations, curriculum, and management but to also possess the ability to strengthen the school’s Catholic identity by building a Catholic culture and community, fostering faith development, and integrating the Church’s traditions and doctrinal practices into all aspects of school life. Without this intense spiritual dimension, Catholic education would only mirror secular private education and fall short of fulfilling its divine mission of evangelization and sanctification.

Specific writings directed toward Catholic educational leaders have blossomed over the years, yet most documents written on the topic of educational personnel are still very much focused on Catholic school teachers. When one reads about unique dimensions of formation and witness for these teachers, one can be certain that these apply also to its educational leaders. Thus, this document might be read in tandem with its sister document, The Call to Teach: Expectations for the Catholic Educator in Magisterial Teaching (2015).

Called to a special role within the Catholic school environment, educational leaders hold themselves out as formal collaborators with the ecclesial Church and are, therefore, held more accountable. Reviewing what the Church asks of them through documents such as The Call to Teach and The Call to Lead allows school leaders to substantially and efficiently fulfill the professional formation the Church asks of them. Using the formative questions at the end of this document can help school leaders with self-assessment and the development of plans for self-improvement. It is to these school leaders that parents, students, teachers, and all stakeholders of the school look to for fidelity and flourishing of the Church’s mission for Catholic education. It is hoped that this document will help them in that endeavor.

Catholic Educational Leadership – Answering the Call

Overview

Leaders in Catholic education, called by God and led by the spirit of the Gospel, work for the sanctification of the world.1 Their work is not just a profession, but a vocation, a calling to the apostolate of Catholic education.2 Each leader must be fully aware of the importance and the responsibility of this vocation and fully respond to its demands, secure in the knowledge that their response is vital for the construction and ongoing renewal of the earthly city and the evangelization of the world.3

This vocational aspect requires each leader to live in faith within the communitarian nature of the school.  Through faith they will find an unfailing source of the humility, hope, and charity needed for perseverance in their work.

Catholic school leaders should have the necessary professional qualifications and an apostolic intention inspired by faith to pursue the integral formation of the human person.4  Through their modeling and personal witness, Catholic school leaders make Christ known to others: students, teachers, families, and all those associated with the school.5 This vocation to Catholic education demands special qualities of mind and heart, careful preparation, and continued readiness to renew and to adapt.6

Citations: Catholic Educational Leadership – Answering the Call

Gravissimum Educationis (Pope Paul VI, 1965)

Beautiful indeed and of great importance is the vocation of all those who aid parents in fulfilling their duties and who, as representatives of the human community, undertake the task of education in schools. This vocation demands special qualities of mind and heart, very careful preparation, and continuing readiness to renew and to adapt (5).

Lay Catholics in Schools:  Witnesses to Faith (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1982)

This call to personal holiness and to apostolic mission is common to all believers; but there are many cases in which the life of a lay person takes on specific characteristics which transform this life into a specific “wonderful” vocation within the Church. The laity “seeks the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God”. They live in the midst of the world’s activities and professions, and in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life; and there they are called by God so that by exercising their proper function and being led by the spirit of the Gospel they can work for the sanctification of the world from within, in the manner of leaven. In this way they can make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope, and charity (7).

Because of the experiences that lay people acquire in their lives, and through their presence in all of the various spheres of human activity, they will be especially capable of recognizing and clarifying the signs of the times that characterize the present historical period of the People of God. Therefore, as a proper part of their vocation, they should contribute their initiative, their creativity, and their competent, conscious, and enthusiastic labor to this task. In this way, the whole People of God will be able to distinguish more precisely those elements of the signs that are Gospel values, or values contrary to the Gospel (10).

One specific characteristic of the educational profession assumes its most profound significance in the Catholic educator: the communication of truth. For the Catholic educator, whatever is true is a participation in Him who is the Truth; the communication of truth, therefore, as a professional activity, is thus fundamentally transformed into a unique participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, carried on through one’s teaching (16).

And if there is no trace of Catholic identity in the education, the educator can hardly be called a Catholic educator. Some of the aspects of this living out of one’s identity are common and essential; they must be present no matter what the school is in which the lay educator exercises his or her vocation (25).

A Vocation, rather than a Profession: The work of a lay educator has an undeniably professional aspect; but it cannot be reduced to professionalism alone. Professionalism is marked by, and raised to, a super-natural Christian vocation. The life of the Catholic teacher must be marked by the exercise of a personal vocation in the Church, and not simply by the exercise of a profession. In a lay vocation, detachment and generosity are joined to legitimate defense of personal rights; but it is still a vocation, with the fullness of life and the personal commitment that the word implies. It offers ample opportunity for a life filled with enthusiasm. It is, therefore, very desirable that every lay Catholic educator become fully aware of the importance, the richness, and the responsibility of this vocation. They should fully respond to all of its demands, secure in the knowledge that their response is vital for the construction and ongoing renewal of the earthly city, and for the evangelization of the world (37).

Lay Catholic educators must be very aware of the real impoverishment which will result if priests and religious disappear from the Catholic schools, or noticeably decline in number. This is to be avoided as far as is possible; and yet, the laity must prepare themselves in such a way that they will be able to maintain Catholic schools on their own whenever this becomes necessary or at least more desirable, in the present or in the future (45).

… laity should participate authentically in the responsibility for the school; this assumes that they have the ability that is needed in all areas, and are sincerely committed to the educational objectives which characterize a Catholic school. And the school should use every means possible to encourage this kind of commitment; without it, the objectives of the school can never be fully realized. It must never be forgotten that the school itself is always in the process of being created, due to the labor brought to fruition by all those who have a role to play in it, and most especially by those who are teachers (78).

Above all else, lay Catholics will find support in their own faith. Faith is the unfailing source of the humility, the hope, and the charity needed for perseverance in their vocation (72-79).

Educating Together in Catholic Schools, A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2007)

Just as a consecrated person is called to testify his or her specific vocation to a life of communion in love so as to be in the scholastic community a sign, a memorial and a prophecy of the values of the Gospel, so too a lay educator is required to exercise a specific mission within the Church by living, in faith, a secular vocation in the communitarian structure of the school (15).

While invited to deepen their vocation as educators in the Catholic school in communion with consecrated persons, the lay faithful also are called in the common formational journey to give the original and irreplaceable contribution of their full ecclesial subjectivity… As educators, they are called on to live in faith a secular vocation in the communitarian structure of the school: with the best possible professional qualifications, with an apostolic intention inspired by faith, for the integral formation of the human person (30).

Organized according to the diversities of persons and vocations, but vivified by the same spirit of communion, the educational community of the Catholic school aims at creating increasingly deeper relationships of communion that are in themselves educational. Precisely in this, it expresses the variety and beauty of the various vocations and the fruitfulness at educational and pedagogical levels that this contributes to the life of the school (37).

“Themes in Catholic Schools in the United States” (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2015)

Amidst the persistent call for ongoing formation, there was an emerging sense of the vocation of Catholic school leaders, almost an awakening of the apostolate for administrators, teachers, board members and pastors. Catholic education is not just a job, it is a vocation. A school’s Catholic identity depends on effective leader formation. Competent and capable leaders are able to address other needs like finance, governance, and recruitment. Faith filled Catholic leaders keep Catholic identity strong, set a positive tone and bring the community together. Catholic school leaders need to see themselves as part of the mission and respond to the call for co-responsibility and collaboration. These men and women need to take their own faith journey seriously. Potential resources for formation were identified as: Catholic colleges and universities, Catholic studies institutes, leadership programs within seminaries, and cooperative efforts with parish and local faith communities (2).

Catholic Educational Leaders Fulfill the Mission of Catholic Education

Overview

Leaders in Catholic education, filled with deep conviction, joy, and a spirit of sacrifice7, share in the Church’s mission and in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly functions of Christ.8 They constitute an element of great hope for the Church, for they are entrusted with the “integral human formation and faith education of young people who will determine whether the world of tomorrow is more closely or more loosely bound to Christ.9As members of the People of God, united to Christ through Baptism, they work not for a mere employer but for the Body of Christ, carrying out the mission of the Redeemer.10

Their role is to imbue their students with the spirit of Christ, striving to excel in pedagogy and the pursuit of knowledge in such a way that they advance the internal renewal of the Church and preserve and enhance its influence upon the modern world.11 By accepting and developing a legacy of Catholic thought and educational experience, they take their place as full partners in the Church’s mission of educating the whole person and of transmitting the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ to successive generations.12

The ultimate goal of all Catholic education is transmitting clearly and fully the message of salvation, which elicits the response of faith.13 By enriching students’ lives with the fullness of Christ’s message and inviting them to Christ, educators promote most effectively the students’ integral human development and build a community of truth, faith, hope, and love.14

Hiring for mission is essential to the future success of Catholic education. Leaders must be committed to Catholic identity and mission. All who are responsible for Catholic education must keep sight of the mission and apostolic value of their work so schools enjoy the conditions in which to accomplish their mission of pursing the individual good of the student (specifically his or her salvation) and service to the common good.

Citations: Catholic Education Leaders Fulfill the Mission of Catholic Education

Gravissimum Educationis (Pope Paul VI, 1965)

The sacred synod earnestly entreats young people themselves to become aware of the importance of the work of education and to prepare themselves to take it up, especially where because of a shortage of teachers the education of youth is in jeopardy. This same sacred synod, while professing its gratitude to priests, religious men and women, and the laity who by their evangelical self-dedication are devoted to the noble work of education and of schools of every type and level, exhorts them to persevere generously in the work they have undertaken and, imbuing their students with the spirit of Christ, to strive to excel in pedagogy and the pursuit of knowledge in such a way that they not merely advance the internal renewal of the Church but preserve and enhance its beneficent influence upon today’s world, especially the intellectual world (Conclusion).

The Catholic School (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education,1977)

If all who are responsible for the Catholic school would never lose sight of their mission and the apostolic value of their teaching, the school would enjoy better conditions in which to function in the present and would faithfully hand on its mission to future generations. They themselves, moreover, would most surely be filled with a deep conviction, joy and spirit of sacrifice in the knowledge that they are offering innumerable young people the opportunity of growing in faith, of accepting and living its precious principles of truth, charity and hope (87).

Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1982)

The lay Catholic working in a school is, along with every Christian, a member of the People of God. As such, united to Christ through Baptism, he or she shares in the basic dignity that is common to all members. For, “they share a common dignity from their rebirth in Christ. They have the same filial grace and the same vocation to perfection. They possess in common one salvation, one hope, and one undivided charity”. Although it is true that, in the Church, “by the will of Christ, some are made teachers, dispensers of mysteries and shepherds on behalf of others, yet all share a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body of Christ”. Every Christian, and therefore also every lay person, has been made a sharer in “the priestly, prophetic, and kingly functions of Christ”, and their apostolate “is a participation in the saving mission of the Church itself… All are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself” (6).

There are times in which the Bishops will take advantage of the availability of competent lay persons who wish to give clear Christian witness in the field of education, and will entrust them with complete direction of Catholic schools, thus incorporating them more closely into the apostolic mission of the Church (46).

Lay Catholic educators in schools, whether teachers, directors, administrators, or auxiliary staff, must never have any doubts about the fact that they constitute an element of great hope for the Church. The Church puts its trust in them entrusting them with the task of gradually bringing about an integration of temporal reality with the Gospel, so that the Gospel can thus reach into the lives of all men and women. More particularly, it has entrusted them with the integral human formation and the faith education of young people. These young people are the ones who will determine whether the world of tomorrow is more closely or more loosely bound to Christ (81).

When it [Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education] considers the tremendous evangelical resource embodied in the millions of lay Catholics who devote their lives to schools, it recalls the words with which the Second Vatican Council ended its Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, and “earnestly entreats in the Lord that all lay persons give a glad, generous, and prompt response to the voice of Christ, who is giving them an especially urgent invitation at this moment; …they should respond to it eagerly and magnanimously… and, recognizing that what is His is also their own (Phil 2, 5), to associate themselves with Him in His saving mission… Thus they can show that they are His co-workers in the various forms and methods of the Church’s one apostolate, which must be constantly adapted to the new needs of the times. May they always abound in the works of God, knowing that they will not labor in vain when their labour is for Him (Cf. I Cor 15, 58)” (82).

Apostolic Journey to the United States and Canada: Meeting with the Representatives of Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools and Leaders in Religious Education in New Orleans (Pope John Paul II, 1987)

In recent years, thousands of lay people have come forward as administrators and teachers in the Church’s schools and educational programs. By accepting and developing the legacy of Catholic thought and educational experience which they have inherited, they take their place as full partners in the Church’s mission of educating the whole person and of transmitting the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ to successive generations of young Americans. Even if they do not “teach religion”, their service in a Catholic school or educational program is part of the Church’s unceasing endeavor to lead all to profess the truth in love and grow to the full maturity of Christ the head (Eph. 4, 15) (4).

For a Catholic educator, the Church should not be looked upon merely as an employer. The Church is the Body of Christ, carrying on the mission of the Redeemer throughout history. It is our privilege to share in that mission, to which we are called by the grace of God and in which we are engaged together (4).

The ultimate goal of all Catholic education is salvation in Jesus Christ. Catholic educators effectively work for the coming of Christ’s Kingdom; this work includes transmitting clearly and in full the message of salvation, which elicits the response of faith. In faith we know God, and the hidden purpose of his will (Cfr. Eph. 1, 9). In faith we truly come to know ourselves. By sharing our faith, we communicate a complete vision of the whole of reality and a commitment to truth and goodness. This vision and this commitment draw the strands of life into a purposeful pattern. By enriching your student’s lives with the fullness of Christ’s message and by inviting them to accept with all their hearts Christ’s work, which is the Church, you promote most effectively their integral human development and you help them to build a community of faith, hope and love (8).

Evangelii Gaudium (Pope Francis, 2013)

I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. “Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission” (25).

Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2014)

School heads must be leaders who make sure that education is a shared and living mission, who support and organize teachers, who promote mutual encouragement and assistance (III,1, b).

USCCB Response to Educating Today and Tomorrow (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2015)

We need Catholic educators that are strong leaders committed to Catholic identity and mission. They were described as truly Catholic, well-formed in faith and morals, active in the faith and involved in parish life (2).

Hiring for mission is essential to the future success of Catholic schools. School administrators, teachers, coaches and staff need to be thoroughly evangelized and living vibrant Christian lives. This atmosphere begins with formation of leaders in school; principals need encouragement in personal faith formation and in encouraging faculty and staff in their faith formation. Catholic education is about making sure we do everything we can to form and educate the future leaders in our Church and society. Training for teachers in an integrated curriculum is part of Catholic identity in the schools (4).

The Spiritual Dimension of Catholic Educational Leadership

Overview

Catholic education depends on strong leaders, well-formed in the faith15 and in Christian pedagogy16 and committed to the Church’s vision for Catholic education. Inspired by the Gospel, they establish a rich Catholic culture in their schools,17 serving as co-workers in the Church’s apostolate. Through prayer, sacramental life, Scripture, doctrine, and knowledge of the nature and purpose of Catholic education, they cultivate their own spiritual formation and develop a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. These encounters awaken leaders’ love and open their spirits to others so that their educational commitment becomes a consequence of their faith, a faith which becomes active through love.

School leaders assume responsibility for the ecclesial and pastoral mission of Catholic education. As practicing Catholics in good standing, they understand and accept the teachings of the Church and moral demands of the Gospel.18 Their calling guides and shapes their commitment to the Church and the faith they profess. They participate simply and actively in the liturgical and sacramental life of the school and provide an example to others who find in them nourishment for Christian living.19

Catholic education leaders serve the Church in a type of ministerial function under the direction of the hierarchy20 and participate in the threefold ministry of Christ: to teach doctrine, to build community, and to serve. This is the most effective means available to the Church for the education of children and young people.21

The Catholic education leader provides spiritual inspiration for the school, the academic and cultural organizations that the school comes in contact with, the local Church, and the wider community.22 Such inspiration will manifest itself in different forms of evangelization.23

Citations: The Spiritual Dimension of Catholic Educational Leadership

Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education,1982)

The communitarian structure of the school brings the Catholic educator into contact with a wide and rich assortment of people; not only the students, who are the reason why the school and the teaching profession exist, but also with one’s colleagues in the work of education, with parents, with other personnel in the school, with the school directors. The Catholic educator must be a source of spiritual inspiration for each of these groups, as well as for each of the scholastic and cultural organizations that the school comes in contact with, for the local Church and the parishes, for the entire human ambience in which he or she is inserted and, in a variety of ways, should have an effect on. In this way, the Catholic educator is called to display that kind of spiritual inspiration which will manifest different forms of evangelization (23).

As a visible manifestation of the faith they profess and the life witness they are supposed to manifest, it is important that lay Catholics who work in a Catholic school participate simply and actively in the liturgical and sacramental life of the school. Students will share in this life more readily when they have concrete examples: when they see the importance that this life has for believers. In today’s secularized world, students will see many lay people who call themselves Catholics, but who never take part in liturgy or sacraments. It is very important that they also have the example of lay adults who take such things seriously, who find in them a source and nourishment for Christian living (40).

Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005)

Today in parishes, schools, Church institutions, and diocesan agencies, laity serve in various “ministries, offices and roles” that do not require sacramental ordination but rather “find their foundation in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, indeed, for a good many of them, in the Sacrament of Matrimony” (p.9).

The term “lay ecclesial minister” is generic. It is meant to encompass and describe several possible roles. In parish life—to cite only one sphere of involvement—the pastoral associate, parish catechetical leader, youth ministry leader, school principal, and director of liturgy or pastoral music are examples of such roles (p.11).

Their functions of collaboration with the ordained require of lay ecclesial ministers a special level of professional competence and presence to the community. Their position often involves coordinating and directing others in the community… For these reasons, their roles often require academic preparation, certification, credentialing, and a formation that integrates personal, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral dimensions. These lay ecclesial ministers often express a sense of being called. This sense motivates what they are doing, guiding and shaping a major life choice and commitment to Church ministry (p.12).

National Directory for Catechesis (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005)

The Catholic school is a center for evangelization; this, its catechetical program is essential to its distinctly Catholic identity and character. It is “an active apostolate.” Therefore, the principal of a Catholic school must be a practicing Catholic in good standing who understands and accepts the teachings of the Church and moral demands of the Gospel. As a catechetical leader in the Catholic school, the principal is called to:

  • Recognize that all members of the faculty and staff “are an integral part of the process of religious education”
  • Recruit teachers who are practicing Catholic, who can understand and accept the teachings of the Catholic Church and the moral demands of the Gospel, and who can contribute to the achievement of the school’s Catholic identity and apostolic goals
  • Supervise, through observation and evaluation, the performance of each religion teacher
  • Provide opportunities for ongoing catechesis of faculty members
  • Design a curriculum that supports the school’s catechetical goals and, if the school is associated with a parish, the parish’s catechetical goals.
  • Develop goals for the implement of an overall catechetical plan for the school, and periodically evaluate progress toward these goals
  • Foster a distinctively Christian community among the faculty, students, and parents
  • Provide, alongside the pastor, for the spiritual growth of the faculty
  • Collaborate with parish, area, and diocesan personnel in planning and implementing programs of total parish catechesis (231).

Educating Together in Catholic Schools, A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2007)

For this reason, Catholic educators need a “formation of the heart”: they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others, so that their educational commitment becomes a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love (cf. Gal 5:6). In fact, even care for instruction means loving (Wis 6:17). It is only in this way that they can make their teaching a school of faith, that is to say, a transmission of the Gospel, as required by the educational project of the Catholic school (25).

The transmission of the Christian message through teaching implies a mastery of the knowledge of the truths of the faith and of the principles of spiritual life that require constant improvement. This is why both consecrated and lay educators of the Catholic school need to follow an opportune formational theological itinerary. Such an itinerary makes it easier to combine the understanding of faith with professional commitment and Christian action. Apart from their theological formation, educators need also to cultivate their spiritual formation in order to develop their relationship with Jesus Christ and become a Master like Him. In this sense, the formational journey of both lay and consecrated educators must be combined with the molding of the person towards greater conformity with Christ (cf. Rm 8:29) and of the educational community around Christ the Master. Moreover, the Catholic school is well aware that the community that it forms must be constantly nourished and compared with the sources from which the reason for its existence derives: the saving word of God in Sacred Scripture, in Tradition, above all liturgical and sacramental Tradition, enlightened by the Magisterium of the Church (26).

In the perspective of formation, by sharing their life of prayer and opportune forms of community life, the lay faithful and consecrated persons will nourish their reflection, their sense of fraternity and generous dedication. In this common catechetical-theological and spiritual formational journey, we can see the face of a Church that presents that of Christ, praying, listening, learning and teaching in fraternal communion (33).

It is also through their formational journey that educators are called on to build relationships at professional, personal and spiritual levels, according to the logic of communion. For each one this involves being open, welcoming, disposed to a deep exchange of ideas, convivial and living a fraternal life within the educational community itself (35).

Circular Letter to the Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences on Religious Education in Schools (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2009)

A form of education that ignores or marginalises the moral and religious dimension of the person is a hindrance to full education, because “children and young people have a right to be motivated to appraise moral values with a right conscience, to embrace them with a personal adherence, together with a deeper knowledge and love of God.” That is why the Second Vatican Council asked and recommended “all those who hold a position of public authority or who are in charge of education to see to it that youth is never deprived of this sacred right” (1).

Educating in Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools: Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2013)

For those who occupy positions of leadership, there can be a strong temptation to consider the school like a company or business. However, schools that aim to be educating communities need those who govern them to be able to invoke the school’s reference values; they must then direct all the school’s professional and human resources in this direction. School leaders are more than just managers of an organization. They are true educational leaders when they are the first to take on this responsibility, which is also an ecclesial and pastoral mission rooted in a relationship with the Church’s pastors (85).

Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2014)

Spiritual poverty and declining cultural levels are starting to produce their dismal effects, even within Catholic schools. Often times, authoritativeness is being undermined. It is really not a matter of discipline—parents greatly appreciate Catholic schools because of their discipline—but do some Catholic school heads still have anything to say to students and their families? Is their authority based on formal rules or on the authoritativeness of their testimony? If we want to avert a gradual impoverishment, Catholic schools must be run by individuals and teams who are inspired by the Gospel, who have been formed in Christian pedagogy, in tune with Catholic schools’ educational project, and not by people who are prone to being seduced by fashionability, or by what can become an easier sell, to put it bluntly (III,1,a).

USCCB Response to Educating Today and Tomorrow (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2015)

Clarity of vision and strong leaders formed in the faith are critical to establishing a rich Catholic culture in the Catholic school. Being academically excellent is critical and necessary but no sufficient. The schools whether primary and secondary or colleges and universities must be fully Catholic. Formation of this kind would include pastors, administrators, teachers and all those serving in the Catholic school. Faith formation that includes individual formation in prayer, sacramental life, Scripture, doctrine and knowledge of the nature and purpose of Catholic education would appear to be component parts of the formation of future leaders and teachers.

…Bishops and pastors should be actively engaged in identifying and forming present and future leaders in the schools.

…In addition to programs of training, there should be an intentional and particular emphasis on the sacramental and spiritual lives of the future leaders (III, B, a).

The Congregation for Catholic Education has stated that, “Catholic schools are at the heart of the Church.” They are a vital aspect of the Church’s mission to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and as such are important to the future and vitality of the Church in the United States. Because they are vital and important, it is critical to support new efforts to develop and form strong faith-filled leaders and teachers at the elementary, secondary and collegiate levels of Catholic education. Faith formation for all involved in the mission of Catholic education is part of the New Evangelization (IV).

“Themes in Catholic Schools in the United States” (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2015)

Catholic schools depend on clarity of vision and strong leaders well formed in the faith, who are capable of establishing a rich Catholic culture in the schools. Consequently, training, both professional and spiritual, was lifted up as vitally important. Our schools need professionally prepared, competent leaders who can lead and inspire.

As principals, teachers and administrators they must know and live Catholic principles and morality. Their formation should be rooted in the vision of missionary discipleship as articulated by the Holy Father in Evangelii Gaudium. The bishops noted the significance of witness statements for Catholic teachers and administrators. It was Pope Paul VI that noted young people listen more to witnesses than to teachers and if they listen to teachers, it is because they are also witnesses. In service to the New Evangelization the formation of school leaders and teachers must equip them to create an evangelizing culture. The schools should be centers for evangelization and catechesis.

The formation of school leaders is foundational for a Catholic school. The bishops spoke most frequently of principals, pastors and teachers. A common term used was school leader which encompasses a broad range of people related to the school: principals, pastors, teachers, coaches, administrators, board members and parents, Latinos and Anglos, men and women, religious and lay. Through their formation, these leaders work to integrate faith into every facet of school life. Across the country, bishops call for catechetical formation for all school leaders (2).

The Professional Dimension of Catholic Educational Leadership

Overview

Professional competence is necessary to unleash educational potential. Those who oversee Catholic education must have the ability to create and manage learning environments that provide plentiful opportunities for students and teachers to flourish. Leaders respect individual differences and guide others toward significant and profound learning.24 Leaders accompany their students and teachers toward lofty and challenging goals, establish high expectations for them, and connect them to each other and the world.25 A solid professional formation in a wide range of cultural, psychological, and pedagogical areas will aid toward this end.26

The purpose of education is the development of man from within, freeing him from that conditioning which would prevent him from becoming a fully integrated human being.27 Every school and every educator in the school should strive to form strong and responsible individuals, who are grounded in Gospel values, capable of making free and correct choices, have a clear idea of the meaning of life, are open more and more to reality, and are ready to take their place in society.28

It is therefore important that leaders know how to create communities of formation and of study where knowledge is explored in the light of the Gospel and where each individual can make their own essential contribution to society.29

Citations: The Professional Dimension of Catholic Educational Leadership

The Catholic School (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1977)

It must never be forgotten that the purpose of instruction at school is education, that is, the development of man from within, freeing him from that conditioning which would prevent him from becoming a fully integrated human being. The school must begin from the principle that its educational programme is intentionally directed to the growth of the whole person (29).

The Catholic school must be alert at all times to developments in the fields of child psychology, pedagogy and particularly catechetics, and should especially keep abreast of directives from competent ecclesiastical authorities. The school must do everything in its power to aid the Church to fulfill its catechetical mission and so must have the best possible qualified teachers of religion (52).

Lay Catholics in Schools:  Witnesses to Faith (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1982)

Every person who contributes to integral human formation is an educator; but teachers have made integral human formation their very profession. When, then, we discuss the school, teachers deserve special consideration: because of their number, but also because of the institutional purpose of the school. But everyone who has a share in this formation is also to be included in the discussion: especially those who are responsible for the direction of the school, or are counsellors, tutors or coordinators; also those who complement and complete the educational activities of the teacher or help in administrative and auxiliary positions (15).

The integral formation of the human person, which is the purpose of education, includes the development of all the human faculties of the students, together with preparation for professional life, formation of ethical and social awareness, becoming aware of the transcendental, and religious education. Every school, and every educator in the school, ought to be striving “to form strong and responsible individuals, who are capable of making free and correct choices”, thus preparing young people “to open themselves more and more to reality, and to form in themselves a clear idea of the meaning of life” (17).

Each type of education, moreover, is influenced by a particular concept of what it means to be a human person. In today’s pluralistic world, the Catholic educator must consciously inspire his or her activity with the Christian concept of the person, in communion with the Magisterium of the Church. It is a concept which includes a defense of human rights, but also attributes to the human person the dignity of a child of God; it attributes the fullest liberty, freed from sin itself by Christ, the most exalted destiny, which is the definitive and total possession of God Himself, through love. It establishes the strictest possible relationship of solidarity among all persons; through mutual love and an ecclesial community. It calls for the fullest development of all that is human, because we have been made masters of the world by its Creator. Finally, it proposes Christ, Incarnate Son of God and perfect Man, as both model and means; to imitate Him, is, for all men and women, the inexhaustible source of personal and communal perfection. Thus, Catholic educators can be certain that they make human beings more human. Moreover, the special task of those educators who are lay persons is to offer to their students a concrete example of the fact that people deeply immersed in the world, living fully the same secular life as the vast majority of the human family, possess this same exalted dignity (18).

The vocation of every Catholic educator includes the work of ongoing social development: to form men and women who will be ready to take their place in society, preparing them in such a way that they will make the kind of social commitment which will enable them to work for the improvement of social structures, making these structures more conformed to the principles of the Gospel. Thus, they will form human beings who will make human society more peaceful, fraternal, and communitarian… The Catholic educator, in other words, must be committed to the task of forming men and women who will make the “civilization of love” a reality. But lay educators must bring the experience of their own lives to this social development and social awareness, so that students can be prepared to take their place in society with an appreciation of the specific role of the lay person—for this is the life that nearly all of the students will be called to live (19).

A school uses its own specific means for the integral formation of the human person: the communication of culture. It is extremely important, then, that the Catholic educator reflect on the profound relationship that exists between culture and the Church…

For this reason, if the communication of culture is to be a genuine educational activity, it must not only be organic, but also critical and evaluative, historical and dynamic. Faith will provide Catholic educators with some essential principles for critique and evaluation; faith will help them to see all of human history as a history of salvation which culminates in the fullness of the Kingdom. This puts culture into a creative context, constantly being perfected (20).

To summarize: The Lay Catholic educator is a person who exercises a specific mission within the Church by living, in faith, a secular vocation in the communitarian structure of the school: with the best possible professional qualifications, with an apostolic intention inspired by faith, for the integral formation of the human person, in a communication of culture, in an exercise of that pedagogy which will give emphasis to direct and personal contact with students, giving spiritual inspiration to the educational community of which he or she is a member, as well as to all the different persons related to the educational community. To this lay person, as a member of this community, the family and the Church entrust the school’s educational endeavor. Lay teachers must be profoundly convinced that they share in the sanctifying, and therefore educational mission of the Church; they cannot regard themselves as cut off from the ecclesial complex (24).

Professionalism is one of the most important characteristics in the identity of every lay Catholic. The first requirement, then, for a lay educator who wishes to live out his or her ecclesial vocation, is the acquisition of a solid professional formation. In the case of an educator, this includes competency in a wide range of cultural, psychological, and pedagogical areas. However, it is not enough that the initial training be at a good level; this must be maintained and deepened, always bringing it up to date (27).

New horizons will be opened to students through the responses that Christian revelation brings to questions about the ultimate meaning of the human person, of human life, of history, and of the world. These must be offered to the students as responses which flow out of the profound faith of the educator, but at the same time with the greatest sensitive respect for the conscience of each student (28).

Faced with this reality [expansion of science & technology; age of change], which lay people are the first to experience, the Catholic educator has an obvious and constant need for updating: in personal attitudes, in the content of the subjects, that are taught, in the pedagogical methods that are used. Recall that the vocation of an educator requires “ a constant readiness to begin anew and to adapt” (68-70).

If the directors of the school and the lay people who work in the school are to live according to the same ideals, two things are essential. First, lay people must receive an adequate salary, guaranteed by a well defined contract, for the work they do in the     school: a salary that will permit them to live in dignity, without excessive work or a need for additional employment that will interfere with the duties of an educator. This may not be immediately possible without putting an enormous financial burden on the families, or making the school so expensive that it becomes a school for a small elite group; but so long as a truly adequate salary is not being paid, the laity should see in the school directors a genuine preoccupation to find the resources necessary to achieve this end. Secondly, laity should participate authentically in the responsibility for the school; this assumes that they have the ability that is needed in all areas, and are sincerely committed to the educational objectives which characterize a Catholic school (78).

As a part of its mission, an element proper to the school is solicitous care for the permanent professional and religious formation of its lay members. Lay people should be able to look to the school for the orientation and the assistance that they need, including the willingness to make time available when this is needed. Formation is indispensable; without it, the school will wander further and further away from its objectives. Often enough, if it will join forces with other educational centers and with Catholic professional organizations, a Catholic school will not find it too difficult to organize conferences, seminars, and other meetings which will provide the needed formation. According to circumstances, these could be expanded to include other lay Catholic educators who do    not work in Catholic schools; these people would thus be offered an opportunity they are frequently in need of, and do not easily find elsewhere (79).

Code of Canon Law (1983)

Directors of Catholic schools are to take care under the watchfulness of the local ordinary that the instruction which is given in them is at least as academically distinguished as that in the other schools of the area (c.806 §2).

The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (Congregation for Catholic Education, 1988)

Recent Church teaching has added an essential note: “The basic principle which must guide us in our commitment to this sensitive area of pastoral activity is that religious instruction and catechesis are at the same time distinct and complementary. A school has as its purpose the students’ integral formation. Religious instruction, therefore, should be integrated into the objectives and criteria which characterize a modern school.” School directors should keep this directive of the Magisterium in mind, and they should respect the distinctive characteristics of religious instruction (70).

Educating Together in Catholic Schools: A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2007)

Professional formation: One of the fundamental requirements for an educator in a Catholic school is his or her possession of a solid professional formation. Poor quality teaching, due to insufficient professional preparation or inadequate pedagogical methods, unavoidably undermines the effectiveness of the overall formation of the student and of the cultural witness that the educator must offer (21).

Educating to Intercultural Dialogue in the Catholic School: Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2013)

Hence, it is important that schools know how to be communities of formation and of study, where relationships among individuals color relationships among academic disciplines. Knowledge is enhanced from within by this reclaimed unity, in the light of the Gospel and Christian doctrine, and so can make its own essential contribution to the integral growth of both individuals and the evermore heralded global society (80).

Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2014)

The importance of schools’ and universities’ educational tasks explains how crucial training is for teachers, managers and the entire staff that has educational responsibilities. Professional competence is the necessary condition for openness to unleash its educational potential. A lot is being required of teachers and managers: they should have the ability to create, invent and manage learning environments that provide plentiful opportunities; they should be able to respect students’ different intelligences and guide them towards significant and profound learning; they should be able to accompany their students towards lofty and challenging goals, cherish high expectations for them, involve and connect students to each other and the world. Teachers must be able to pursue different goals simultaneously and face problem situations that require a high level of professionalism and preparation. To fulfil such expectations, these tasks should not be left to individual responsibility and adequate support should be provided at institutional level, with competent leaders showing the way, rather than bureaucrats (7).

USCCB Response to Educating Today and Tomorrow (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2015)

Catholic schools depend on clarity of vision and strong leaders well formed in the faith, who are capable of establishing a rich Catholic culture in the schools. Consequently, training, both professional and spiritual, was lifted up as vitally important. Our schools need professionally prepared, competent leaders who can lead and inspire. These leaders need to be well-formed and able to teach, govern, recruit and set the tone. They need to engage and invite minorities while making a clear case for the value of Catholic schools (5).

Catholic Educational Leaders – The Call to Witness

Overview

The concrete living out of a vocation as rich and profound as that of a Catholic educational leader requires a mature spiritual life expressed in a profound lived Christian witness.30 Leaders are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative so She might become the salt of the earth.31 Catholic leaders must proclaim the Gospel message through their words and witness.32 Helping to bring about the cooperation of all, as a witness to Christ, is the cornerstone of the community. The Catholic leader becomes a living example of one inspired by the Gospel.33

“Conduct is always much more important than speech; this fact becomes especially important in the formation of students.”34  This requires following the way of Christianity to shape all aspects of the school’s life, both inside and outside the classroom.35 The more completely the leader gives concrete witness to the model of Christ, the more the leader will be trusted and imitated.36

The project of the Catholic school is effective and convincing only if carried out by people who are deeply motivated to give witness to a living encounter with Christ, in who alone the mystery of man truly becomes clear.37 Authentic witness to the school’s values creates a community climate permeated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and love.38

Citations: Catholic Educational Leaders – The Call to Witness

The Catholic School (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1977)

By their witness and their behavior teachers are of the first importance to impart a distinctive character to Catholic schools. It is, therefore, indispensable to ensure their continuing formation through some form of suitable pastoral provision. This must aim to animate them as witness of Christ in the classroom and tackle the problems of their particular apostolate, especially regarding a Christian vision of the world and of education, problems also connected with the art of teaching in accordance with the principles of the Gospel (78).

Lay Catholics in Schools:  Witnesses to Faith (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1982)

It seems necessary to begin by trying to delineate the identity of the lay Catholics who work in a school; the way in which they bear witness to the faith will depend on this specific identity, in the Church and in this particular field of labor. In trying to contribute to the investigation, it is the intention of this Sacred Congregation to offer a service to lay Catholics who work in schools (and who should have a clear idea of the specific character of their vocation), and also to the People of God (who need to have a true picture of the laity as an active element, accomplishing an important task for the entire Church through their labor (5).

Therefore, “the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can she become the salt of the earth.”  In order to achieve this presence of the whole Church, and of the Savior whom she proclaims lay people must be ready to proclaim the message through their words, and witness to it in what they do (9).

Personal Life  Witness. Direct and Personal Contact with Students: Conduct is always much more important than speech; this fact becomes especially important in the formation period of students. The more completely an educator can give concrete witness to the model of the ideal person that is being presented to the students, the more this ideal will be believed and imitated… Without this witness, living in such an atmosphere, they may begin to regard Christian behavior as an impossible ideal. It must never be forgotten that, in the crises “which have their greatest effect on the younger generations”, the most important element in the educational endeavor is “always the individual person: the person, and the moral dignity of that person which is the result of his or her principles, and the conformity of actions with those principles” (32).

Professional commitment; support of truth, justice and freedom; openness to the point of view of others, combined with a habitual attitude of service; personal commitment to the students, and fraternal solidarity with everyone; a life that is integrally moral in all its aspects. The lay Catholic who brings all of this to his or her work in a pluralist school becomes a living mirror, in whom every individual in the educational community will see reflected an image of one inspired by the Gospel (52).

The concrete living out of a vocation as rich and profound as that of the lay Catholic in a school requires an appropriate formation, both on the professional plane and on the religious plane. Most especially, it requires the educator to have a mature spiritual personality, expressed in a profound Christian life (60).

The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (Congregation for Catholic Education, 1988)

The Church, therefore, is willing to give lay people charge of the schools that it has established, and the laity themselves establish schools. The recognition of the school as a Catholic school is, however, always reserved to the competent ecclesiastical authority.  When lay people do establish schools, they should be especially concerned with the creation of a community climate permeated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and love, and they should witness to this in their own lives (38).

Apostolic Journey to the United States: Meeting with Catholic Educators at the Conference Hall of The Catholic University of America (Pope Benedict XVI, 2008)

Teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church’s Magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution’s life, both inside and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual.

Educating Together in Catholic Schools:  A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2007)

The project of the Catholic school is convincing only if carried out by people who are deeply motivated, because they witness to a living encounter with Christ, in whom alone «the mystery of man truly becomes clear. These persons, therefore, acknowledge a personal and communal adherence with the Lord, assumed as the basis and constant reference of the inter-personal relationship and mutual cooperation between educator and student (4).

Educating to Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools: Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2013)

Catholic schools develop, in a manner wholly particular to them, the basic hypothesis that formation covers the whole arc of professional experience and is not limited to the period of initial formation or formation in the early years. Catholic schools require people not only to know how to teach or direct an organization; they also require them, using the skills of their profession, to know how to bear authentic witness to the school’s values, as well as to their own continuing efforts to live out ever more deeply, in thought and deed, the ideals that are stated publicly in words (80).

 Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2014)

Hence, one of the most important challenges will be to foster a greater cultural openness amongst teachers and, at the same time, an equally greater willingness to act as witnesses, so that they are aware and careful about their school’s peculiar context in their work, without being lukewarm or extremist, teaching what they know and testifying to what they believe in. In order for teachers to interpret their profession in this way, they must be formed to engage in the dialogue between faith and cultures and between different religions; there cannot be any real dialogue if educators themselves have not been formed and helped to deepen their faith and personal beliefs (III,1, i).

Required Formation of Catholic Educational Leaders

Overview

Formation of Catholic leaders, and of all personnel, allows the Gospel message and the living presence of Jesus to permeate the entire life of the school community and, thus, be faithful to the school’s evangelizing mission.39 Formation needs to consider both professional matters typical of teaching and administrating, and the fundamental elements that make up a school’s Catholic identity.

The synthesis of faith, culture, and life that Catholic schools are called to, is reached by integrating all aspects of human knowledge in the light of the Gospel and in fostering growth in Christian virtue. Catholic leaders facilitate growth in knowledge and growth in humanity.40 They support and organize teacher collaboration and community by providing encouragement and assistance, so they, too, can share in the living mission of evangelization and formation.41

Leaders have a duty to ensure all personnel, including themselves, receive adequate preparation to serve effectively.42 Formational needs for Catholic school leaders and teachers extends beyond that of teachers in government-run schools, since the purpose and end of education are different. Therefore, formational programs for teacher and school leaders focusing on Christian cultural and pedagogical approaches must also be developed and provided.43

Citations: Required Formation of Catholic Educational Leaders

Teach Them (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1976)

We urge administrators to exercise their gifts of education leadership by promoting structures and cooperative procedures which will render such accountability and evaluation meaningful and useful to all in the Catholic educational community—parents, teachers and the Catholic community generally. They should exercise their responsibility particularly with reference to the selection, motivation and development of teaching personnel, keeping ever in mind the apostolic goals and character of the Catholic school (Administrators, 2).

Lay Catholics in Schools:  Witnesses to Faith (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1982)

This calling says the Second Vatican Council, speaking about educators, requires “extremely careful preparation” …The need for an adequate formation is often felt most acutely in religious and spiritual areas; all too frequently, lay Catholics have not had a religious formation that is equal to their general, cultural, and, most especially, professional formation (60).

The need for religious formation is related to this specific awareness that is being asked of lay Catholics; religious formation must be broadened and be kept up to date, on the same level as, and in harmony with, human formation as a whole. Lay Catholics need to be keenly aware of the need for this kind of religious formation; it is not only the exercise of an apostolate that depends on it, but even an appropriate professional competence, especially when the competence is in the field of education (62).

For the Catholic educator, religious formation does not come to an end with the completion of basic education; it must be a part of and a complement to one’s professional formation, and so be proportionate to adult faith, human culture, and the specific lay vocation. This means that religious formation must be oriented toward both personal sanctification and apostolic mission, for these are two inseparable elements in a Christian vocation. “Formation for apostolic mission means a certain human and well-rounded formation, adapted to the natural abilities and circumstances of each person” and requires “in addition to spiritual formation…solid doctrinal instruction…in theology, ethics and philosophy”. Nor can we forget, in the case of an educator, adequate formation in the social teachings of the Church, which are “an integral part of the Christian concept of life”, and help to keep intensely alive the kind of social sensitivity that is needed (65).

Faced with this reality [extraordinary growth in science and technology], which lay people are the first to experience, the Catholic educator has an obvious and constant need for updating: in personal attitudes, in the content of the subjects, that are taught, in the pedagogical methods that are used. Recall that the vocation of an educator requires “a constant readiness to begin anew and to adapt”. If the need for updating is constant, then the formation must be permanent. This need is not limited to professional formation; it includes religious formation and, in general, the enrichment of the whole person. In this way, the Church will constantly adapt its pastoral mission to the circumstances of the men and women of each age, so that the message of Jesus Christ can be brought to them in a way that is understandable and adapted to their condition… If the need for updating is constant, then the formation must be permanent. This need is not limited to professional formation; it includes religious formation and, in general, the enrichment of the whole person.  In this way, the Church will constantly adapt its pastoral mission to the circumstances of the men and women of each age, so that the message of Jesus Christ can be brought to them in a way that is understandable and adapted to their condition.

Permanent formation involves a wide variety of different elements; a constant search for ways to bring it about is therefore required of both individuals and the community. Among the variety of means for permanent formation, some have become ordinary and virtually indispensable instruments: reading periodicals and pertinent books, attending conferences and seminars, participating in workshops, assemblies and congresses, making appropriate use of periods of free time for formation. All lay Catholics who work in schools should make these a habitual part of their own human, professional, and religious life.

No one can deny that permanent formation, as the name itself suggests, is a difficult task; not everyone succeeds in doing it. This becomes especially true in the face of the growing complexity of contemporary life and the difficult nature of the educational mission, combined with the economic insecurity that so often accompanies it. But in spite of all these factors, no lay Catholic who works in a school can ignore this present-day need. To do so would be to remain locked up in outdated knowledge, criteria, and attitudes. To reject a formation that is permanent and that involves the whole person—human, professional, and religious—is to isolate oneself from that very world that has to be brought closer to the Gospel (68-70).

As a part of its mission, an element proper to the school is solicitous care for the permanent professional and religious formation of its lay members. Lay people should be able to look to the school for the orientation and the assistance that they need, including the willingness to make time available when this is needed. Formation is indispensable; without it, the school will wander further and further away from its objectives (72-79).

Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005)

The Church has always required proper preparation of those who exercise a ministry. In the same way, CIC, canon 231, states that “lay persons who devote themselves permanently or temporarily to some special service of the Church are obliged to acquire the appropriate formation which is required to fulfill their function properly.”

“To set high standards,” said Pope John Paul II, “means both to provide a thorough basic training and to keep it constantly updated. This is a fundamental duty, in order to ensure qualified personnel for the Church’s mission” (19).

Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005)

Ninety-five percent of our current school administrators and teachers are members of the laity. The preparation and ongoing formation of new administrators and teachers is vital if our schools are to remain truly Catholic in all aspects of school life. Catholic school personnel should be grounded in a faith-based Catholic culture, have strong bonds to Christ and the Church, and be witnesses to the faith in both their words and actions. The formation of personnel will allow the Gospel message and the living presence of Jesus to permeate the entire life of the school community and thus be faithful to the school’s evangelizing mission.

We must provide a sufficient number of programs of the highest quality to recruit and prepare our future diocesan and local school administrators and teachers so that they are knowledgeable in matters of our faith, are professionally prepared, and are committed to the Church. These programs will require even more active involvement and cooperation by our Catholic colleges and universities in collaboration with the diocesan educational leadership.

Ongoing faith formation and professional development programs must also be available so that administrators and teachers in Catholic schools can continue to grow in their ministry of education. These programs will introduce new and effective initiatives, educational models, and approaches, while always maintaining a sound Catholic identity in our schools. This is especially important when new Catholic school administrators and teachers come from private and state colleges and universities or from careers in the public school system (Personnel).

Work with the leaders of Catholic colleges and universities to address the critical staffing needs of our Catholic elementary and secondary schools. This would include steps to ensure that sound and effective programs of teacher education and administration are available and affordable to those interested in working in our Catholic schools (Future Actions).

Educating Together in Catholic Schools: A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2007)

The professional formation of the educator implies a vast range of cultural, psychological and pedagogical skills, characterized by autonomy, planning and evaluation capacity, creativity, openness to innovation, aptitude for updating, research and experimentation. It also demands the ability to synthesize professional skills with educational motivations, giving particular attention to the relational situation required today by the increasingly collegial exercise of the teaching profession. Moreover, in the eyes and expectations of students and their families, the educator is seen and desired as a welcoming and prepared interlocutor, able to motivate the young to a complete formation, to encourage and direct their greatest energy and skills towards a positive construction of themselves and their lives, and to be a serious and credible witness of the responsibility and hope which the school owes to society (22).

It is not sufficient simply to care about professional updating in the strict sense. The synthesis between faith, culture and life that educators of the Catholic school are called to achieve is, in fact, reached “by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge through the subjects taught, in the light of the Gospel […and] in the growth of the virtues characteristic of the Christian.” This means that Catholic educators must attain a special sensitivity with regard to the person to be educated in order to grasp not only the request for growth in knowledge and skills, but also the need for growth in humanity. Thus educators must dedicate themselves “to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity” (24).

Educating to Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools: Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2013)

The formation of teachers and administrators is of crucial importance. In most countries, the state provides the initial formation of school personnel. Good though this may be, it cannot be considered sufficient. In fact, Catholic schools bring something extra, particular to them, that must always be recognized and developed. Therefore, while the obligatory formation needs to consider those disciplinary and professional matters typical of teaching and administrating, it must also consider the cultural and pedagogical fundamentals that make up Catholic schools’ identity.

The time spent in formation must be used for reinforcing the idea of Catholic schools as being communities of fraternal relationships and places of research, dedicated to deepening and communicating truth in the various scholarly disciplines. Those who have leadership positions are duty-bound to guarantee that all personnel receive adequate preparation to serve effectively. Moreover, they must serve in coherence with the faith they profess, and be able to interpret society’s demands in the actual situation of its current configuration. This also favors the school’s collaboration with parents in education, respecting their responsibility as first and natural educators (76-77).

 Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2014)

…a particular attention must be devoted to the formation and selection of school heads. They are not only in charge of their respective schools, but are also Bishops’ reference persons inside schools in matters of pastoral care. School heads must be leaders who make sure that education is a shared and living mission, who support  and organize teachers, who promote mutual encouragement and assistance (III,1, b).

“Themes in Catholic Schools in the United States” (U.S. Conference of  Catholic Bishops, 2015)

Formation is a major concern for Catholic schools. While teacher formation was articulated as important, the formation of principals and Catholic school leaders emerged as an area of critical importance to the bishops. The need to cultivate Catholic school leaders was voiced numerous times across the conversations. Some bishops argue that the Catholic identity of a school depends on the faith formation of a school’s leaders and faculty. Many bishops stressed the importance of finding and training competent principals and pastors able to work with the schools. It was noted that bishops, current pastors and principals play a valuable role in helping to identify leaders (2).

Conclusion

The Church’s teachings convey the immense responsibility that Catholic school leaders assume in the ministry of Catholic education.  In addition to financial, operational, and curricular knowledge, these leaders must work toward “an integration of temporal reality with the Gospel, so that the Gospel can thus reach into the lives of all men and women” (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1982).  Theirs is a special call, a vocation to the apostolate of Catholic education where it is demanded of them to live lives of Gospel witness, fully and integrally. Not only is it entrusted to them the human formation and education of young people, but also the modeling and witness of the Catholic faith on a daily basis to edify and bolster the faith of their colleagues and peers. A school’s Catholic identity depends on effective and formed faith-filled leaders who set the tone for a vibrant, worshiping community of believers who collaborate with the Church to fulfill the mission of evangelization and sanctification of its faithful.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do I look at my work in a Catholic school as a vocation, a call from God, or simply a means of sustenance?
  2. Do I have the “special qualities of mind and heart” and the willingness to “renew and adapt” that this very public and high-profile position requires?
  3. Do I have the capacity, both intellectually and physically, to fulfill the mission as a full partner with the Catholic Church of advancing an internal renewal within the Church and preserving and enhancing its influence in the world? In my community? In my diocese?
  4. How convicted am I to fulfill the mission of Catholic education, moving beyond mere administration to enriching “student’s lives with the fullness of Christ’s message and… inviting them to accept with all their hearts Christ’s work”?
  5. Am I living in full communion with the Catholic Church? Is my prayer life strong? Am I willing to share and witness my faith to all those I meet and work with?
  6. Do I have a full understanding of all the teachings of the Church? Are there areas where I could learn more? What are they?
  7. Am I willing and do I have the capacity to mentor colleagues and teachers?
  8. What are my strengths and weaknesses in providing professional development for teachers? Do I have adequate outside resources I can call upon?
  9. Am I willing and able to collaborate with religious in the formation of students? Teacher formation?
  10. Am I willing to continue my own personal professional and spiritual formation even when times seem burdensome?

References

Arthur, J. (2015). The call to teach: Expectations for the Catholic educator in magisterial teaching. Retrieved from http://s3.amazonaws.com/cardinalnewmansociety/wp-content/uploads/The-Call-to-Teach-by-Jamie-Arthur-June-2015.pdf

Code of canon law. (1983). Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/_INDEX.HTM

Congregation for Catholic Education. (1988). The religious dimension of education in a Catholic school. Retrieved from http://vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_catheduc_doc_19880407_catholic-school_en.html

Congregation for Catholic Education. (1997). The Catholic school on the threshold of the third millennium. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_27041988_school2000_en.html

Congregation for Catholic Education. (2007). Educating together in Catholic schools: A shared    mission between consecrated persons and the lay faithful. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_20070908_educare-insieme_en.html

Congregation for Catholic Education. (2009). Circular Letter to the Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences on Religious Education in Schools. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_20090505_circ-insegn-relig_en.html

Congregation for Catholic Education. (2013). Educating to intercultural dialogue in Catholic schools: Living in harmony for a civilization of love. Retrieved from

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_20131028_dialogo-interculturale_en.html

Congregation for Catholic Education. (2014). Educating today and tomorrow: A renewing passion. Instrumentum laboris. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_20140407_educare-oggi-e-domani_en.html

National Conference of Catholic Bishops. (1976). Teach them. Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference.

National Conference of Catholic Bishops. (1979). Sharing the light of faith: National catechetical directory for Catholics in the United States. Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference.

Pope Benedict XVI. (2008). Apostolic journey to the United States: Meeting with Catholic educators at the conference hall of the Catholic University of America in Washington. Retrieved from http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2008/april/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20080417_cath-univ-washington.html

Pope Francis. (2013). Evangelii Gaudium. Retrieved from https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html

Pope John Paul II. (1987). Apostolic journey to the United States and Canada: Meeting with the representatives of Catholic elementary and secondary schools and leaders in religious education in New Orleans. Retrieved from https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/speeches/1987/september/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_19870912_scuole-cattoliche.html

Pope Paul VI. (1965). Gravissimum educationis. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_gravissimum-educationis_en.html

Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education. (1977). The Catholic school. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_19770319_catholic-school_en.html

Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education. (1982). Lay Catholics in schools: Witnesses to faith. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_19821015_lay-catholics_en.html

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (2005a). Co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord. Retrieved from http://www.usccb.org/upload/co-workers-vineyard-lay-ecclesial-    ministry-2005.pdf

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (2005b). National directory for catechesis. Washington, D.C.: USCCB.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (2005c). Renewing our commitment to Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the third millennium. Retrieved from http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/catholic-education/upload/renewing-our-commitment-2005.pdf

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (2015a). Themes in Catholic schools in the United States. Educating today and tomorrow: A renewing passion. World congress on Catholic education. Retrieved from http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/catholic-education/k-12/upload/15-076-Final-World-Congress.pdf

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (2015b). USCCB response to Educating Today and Tomorrow in Educating today and tomorrow: A renewing passion. World congress on Catholic education. Retrieved from http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/catholic-education/k-12/upload/15-076-Final-World-Congress.pdf

 

 

Catholic Curriculum Standards Header

Educating to Truth, Beauty and Goodness

Editor’s Note: The following essay appears in Appendix A of The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Curriculum Standards.1

The world, in all its diversity, is eager to be guided towards the great values of mankind, truth, good and beauty; now more than ever…Teaching means to accompany young people in their search for truth and beauty, for what is right and good.  — Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion, 2014 2

We want our students to maximize their human potential and to both be good and do good in authentic freedom. In order to do this, our students need to be able to know how to wisely and fully apprehend and interrogate all aspects of reality from a solid Christian intellectual tradition. This intellectual tradition involves not just teaching facts and skills, but is also essentially focused on seeking to know the value and nature of things and in appreciating the value of knowledge for its own sake.

One method of assisting students to keep focus on these aspects of Catholic intellectual inquiry is to use the lenses of truth, goodness, and beauty to evaluate a subject under consideration. These three elements are often understood as being among the transcendentals. Transcendentals are the timeless and universal attributes of being.3 They are the properties of all beings. They reflect the divine origin of all things and the unity of all truth and reality in God. These elements are among the deepest realities. They help unite men across time and culture and are often a delight to explore and discuss, because they are substantive to our very nature.

The transcendentals of truth, beauty, and goodness are closely intertwined. Dubay (1999) observed that, “Truth beauty and goodness have their being together, by truth we are put in touch with reality which we find is good for us and beautiful to behold. In our knowing, loving and delighting the gift of reality appears to us as something infinitely and in-exhaustively valuable and fascinating.”4 In seeking to discuss one, the others are naturally and organically brought into the conversation.

The following simple definitions and essential questions are provided as a general framework to help facilitate a discussion on any topic in any subject. The goal is not to generate easy questions for easy answers, but to generate foundational questions for deep inquiry into the value and nature of things, to instill a sense of the intrinsic value of knowledge, and to elicit a sense of wonder.

Beauty

Beauty can help evoke wonder and delight, which are foundations of a life of wisdom and inquiry.5 Beauty involves apprehending unity, harmony, proportion, wholeness, and radiance.6 It often manifests itself in simplicity and purity, especially in math and science.7 Often beauty has a type of pre-rational (striking) force upon the soul, for instance when one witnesses a spectacular sunset or the face of one’s beloved. Beauty can be understood as a type of inner radiance or shine coming from a thing that is well-ordered to its state of being or is true to its nature or form.8

Beauty pleases not only the eye or ear, but also the intellect in a celebration of the integrity of our body and soul. It can be seen as a sign of God’s goodness, benevolence and graciousness, of both His presence and His transcendence in the world.9 It can serve as re-enchantment with the cosmos and all reality10 and assist in moving our students to a rich and deep contemplative beholding of the real.11

Some essential questions related to beauty:

  • Is “X” beautiful? How so? Why not?
  • Which of these (i.e., poems, experiments, proofs, theories, people, functions, concepts) is more beautiful and why? Why might others have thought this beautiful?
  • How does this person/thing attract? Is this person using their God-given gifts to attract in a way that pleases God and draws others closer to God? What can happen when beauty is not used for the glory of God?
  • What is delightful, wondrous about this person/thing?
  • How does this shine? Radiate?
  • How is faithfulness to form or nature powerfully evident here?
  • What does this reveal about the nature of what is seen?
  • Where is there unity and wholeness here?
  • Where is there proportion and harmony here?
  • How does this reveal God’s graciousness, presence, and transcendence?
  • What does my response to this reveal about me?
  • Is this also Good? Is this also True?

Goodness

When we explore issues of goodness with our students, we are fundamentally asking them to consider questions of how well someone or something fulfills its purpose. Goodness is understood as the perfection of being. A thing is good to the degree that it enacts and perfects those powers, activities, and capacities appropriate to its nature and purpose. A good pair of scissors cuts, a good eye has 20/20 vision, and so forth. We have to know a thing’s purpose, nature, or form to engage in an authentic discussion of “The Good.” When we get to questions of what is a good law, a good government, a good father, or a good man, the discussion quickly grows richer, deeper, and more complex.

As Catholic educators, our goal is to help our students to become good persons. Among those qualities we deem good are wisdom, faithfulness, and virtue. Virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good.12 We are free to the extent that with the help of others, we have maximized these goods, these proper powers and perfections as man.13 Such efforts raise fundamental questions of what it means to be human and our relationships with each other, the created world, and God.

God, through reason and revelation, has not left us blind on these issues, nor has He left us up to our own subjective devices. It is a fundamental responsibility of the Catholic school to teach and pass on this Catholic culture, this Catholic worldview, this cultural patrimony, these insights, and these very fundamental truths about the good and what constitutes the good life.14 Particularly, in this and all our efforts as Catholic educators, we build our foundation of the good on Jesus Christ, who is the perfect man, and who fully reveals man to himself.15

Some essential questions related to goodness:

  • What is this thing’s purpose/end? What do we know from our senses and reason? From nature and natural law? What do we know from revelation?
  • What is this thing’s nature? What do we know from our senses and reason? From nature and natural law? What do we know from revelation?
  • What perfections are proper to this thing in light of its purpose?
  • To what degree does the particular instance we are considering possess or lack these perfections?
  • What, if anything, would make this better?
  • What would make this worse?
  • How well does this work? Is “X” a good “Y”? What makes “X” a good “Y”? (e.g., Is Odysseus a good husband? Is the liver we are diagnosing a good liver? Is the theory of relativity a good theory? Is Picasso a good artist?)
  • How does this measure up in terms of a Catholic worldview and values?
  • How does this measure up in terms of Catholic morality and virtue?
  • How does this measure up to God’s plan or expectations of it as revealed in Christ?
  • Is this also beautiful? Is this also true?

Truth

A simple definition for truth is the mind being in accord with reality.16 We seek always to place our students and ourselves in proper relationship with the truth. Nothing we do can ever be opposed to the truth, that is, opposed to reality which has its being in God. Catholics hold that when our senses are in good condition and functioning properly under normal circumstances, and when our reason is functioning honestly and clearly, we can come to know reality and have the ability to make true judgments about reality. Through study, reflection, experimentation, argument and discussion, we believe that an object under discussion may manifest itself in its various relations, either directly or indirectly, to the mind.17

We believe that Man tends by nature toward the truth. Even though due to our fallen nature we may sometimes seek to ignore or obfuscate the truth, we are nonetheless obliged to honor and bear witness to it in its fullness. We are bound to adhere to the truth once we come to know it and direct our whole life in accordance with the demands of truth.18 As Catholics, we believe that reason, revelation, and science will never be in ultimate conflict, as the same God created them all.19 We oppose scientism which without evidence makes the metaphysical claim that only what can be measured and subject to physical science can be true. We oppose relativism, not only because its central dictum “there is no truth” is self-contradicting, but also because in removing objective truths from any analysis, this also removes the possibility of gauging human progress, destroys the basis for human dignity, and disables the ability to make important moral distinctions such as the desirability of tolerance20 and wisdom of pursuing truth, beauty, and goodness as opposed to their opposites of error, ugliness, and sin.

Some essential questions related to truth:

  • Is it true?
  • Is our mind/concept in accord with reality?
  • Are we looking at this clearly and with our senses and reason properly attuned?
  • Is the thinking rational and logical?
  • Is the information and reasoning clear and precise?
  • Is the approach fair and balanced?
  • How does this square with what we know from revelation? If there is a disconnect, where further shall we explore?
  • On what intellectual, moral, or intuitive principle are we basing this?
  • Can the knowledge or situation under consideration be integrated with or expanded by the knowledge from another academic discipline?
  • Now that we know this particular truth about a thing, what other questions does that raise? What more do we want to know?
  • Is this also beautiful? Is this also good?

 

The Call to Teach: Expectations for the Catholic Educator in Magisterial Teaching

Introduction

There have been many changes in Catholic education in the United States since the first missionary schools were established in the Americas, and among the most significant has been the late-20th century shift to primarily lay Catholic teachers.  In recent years, efforts to strengthen the Catholic identity of schools in the United States have prompted measures to reinforce the expectations and formation for teachers in Catholic schools, emphasizing moral qualities in addition to professional competence.

The Vatican has consistently recognized that teachers—lay, clerical, or religious—have an essential role in Catholic education and must serve as witnesses to the faith, in both word and deed.  This constant appreciation for the role of teachers—of great importance to the Church’s leadership as well as to those parents who enter into a partnership with Catholic schools—is presented in the Church’s magisterial teachings.  A review of these teachings provides understanding of the importance of the Catholic teacher and the teacher’s role in fulfilling the mission of the Church by preparing students to live virtuous lives in service to society and the Church.

The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum Educationis (1965), outlines the basic principles of Christian education, acknowledging the Church’s reliance on Catholic educators and the importance of preparation in “secular and religious knowledge”.1 Twelve years later, the impact of cultural and social pluralism on Catholic education was addressed by the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for Education in The Catholic School (1977).  Among its concerns was that, Often what is perhaps fundamentally lacking among Catholics who work in a school is a clear realization of the identity of a Catholic school and the courage to follow all the consequences of its uniqueness.”2

Historically, Catholic identity in schools was strong, as they were administered and staffed by men and women from religious orders, whose professional and spiritual formation created an environment of Christian witness with a program integrated with Gospel values.  However, after Vatican II and in the years following, the Church has become increasingly dependent on laity to serve the more than 6,500 Catholic schools in the United States, which educate approximately two million students.  There has been a gradual but steady transition away from clergy and religious—now just 2.8 percent of Catholic full-time professional staff, according to the National Catholic Educational Association.3

In 1982, due to increased reliance on laity to staff Catholic schools, the Sacred Congregation focused special attention on teachers in its document Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith.  It seeks to detail the “specific character of their vocation” and presents “a true picture of the laity as an active element, accomplishing an important task for the entire Church through their labour”.4

The Congregation expanded on the distinctive characteristics of Catholic education in 1988 in The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, restating, “Prime responsibility for creating this unique Christian school climate rests with the teachers.”5  Less than ten years later, to address the “crisis of values” in contemporary society, the Congregation issued The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium (1997).  The document includes the fundamental characteristics of schools necessary to be effective agents for the Church and the need to recruit teachers who are “competent, convinced, and coherent educators” who serve as a reflection of the one Teacher, Jesus Christ.6

As America entered the twenty-first century, concern over Catholic school closures and waning Catholic identity was addressed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium.  Noting that ninety-five percent of those working in Catholic school were laity, the Bishops state, “The formation of personnel will allow the Gospel message and the living presence of Jesus to permeate the entire life of the school community and thus be faithful to the evangelizing mission.”7  The criteria they present for personnel in a Catholic school include being grounded in faith-based culture, being bonded to Christ and the Church, and being witnesses to the faith in both their words and actions.

Today, Catholic schools continue to struggle against secularization and moral relativism in every aspect of our society.  Laying out plans to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum Educationis, the Congregation for Catholic Education issued Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion, which describes the impact of contemporary culture as an “educational emergency”.  Along with the many issues facing Catholic education—identity, limited means and resources, legal, pastoral—the document discusses the challenge associated with lifelong training of teachers, noting that educators need unity and a willingness to embrace and share a “specific evangelical identity” and “consistent lifestyle”.8

Supported by these and other magisterial documents, this report explicates the teachings of the Catholic Church summarizing the role of lay Catholic teachers and their qualifications; pedagogical, educational, and cultural goals; relationship to the Church; and Gospel witness.  The purpose of the report is to provide an account of the qualities deemed important by the Church for teachers to maintain strong Catholic identity in schools and thereby fulfill the mission of the Church in this apostolate.

The findings are organized into five sections based on recurrent themes found in the magisterial teachings describing a Catholic educator.  Each summary is written using key phrases from the Church documents, followed by the complete citations to provide a contextual reference.  The first section considers the general mission of Catholic education as serving the mission of the Church.

Described in the second section is the vocational aspect of the Catholic educator, exploring how an understanding of this role is critical to fulfilling the Church’s mission in education.

The third section details the spiritual and professional qualifications required of teachers to effectively impart an authentic Catholic education.  Compared to their secular counterparts, teachers in Catholic schools have additional responsibilities associated with the spiritual dimension of their work.  Included in this analysis are pedagogical aspects associated with the “harmonious” development of students’ physical, moral, and intellectual talents,9 integrating Catholicity into subject areas, and ensuring the protection and the dignity of each child.  References to professionalism of the Catholic teacher refer to those qualities deemed important to the integral formation of students, summarized within the context of the magisterial teachings.  The reader will discover that multidimensional criteria for teaching in a Catholic school surpass the standards typically associated with educational credentialing.

Expanding on the spirituality of Catholic educators, section four explores expectations associated with apostolic witness and conduct of an authentic Christian role model.  In the formational years, the adage “actions speak louder than words” could not hold more meaning than for those who interact with children and young adults on a day-to-day basis.  Magisterial teachings detail the importance of faculty behavior based on Gospel values to prepare students for a life of moral and Christian living.

Building on the prior four areas, the fifth section investigates how the blending of instruction, pedagogy, and witness allow for the systematic and critical assimilation of Catholic culture.  This culture of conviction, where truth is fundamental in the search for wisdom, freedom, justice, and human dignity, is the foundation by which students learn their responsibilities to God, themselves, each other, and society.

The Church’s Mission in Catholic Education

A review of documents from the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops provides clarity on the Church’s mission in Catholic education.  Catholic education is an expression of the Church’s mission of salvation and an instrument of evangelization.  Through its schools, members encounter God, who in Jesus Christ reveals His transforming love and truth.  As a faith community, students, parents, and educators, in unity with the Church, give witness to Christ’s loving communion in the Holy Trinity.  With this Christian vision, Catholic education fulfills its purpose of transmitting culture in the light of faith, integrally forming the human person by developing each student’s physical, moral, spiritual, and intellectual gifts, teaching responsibility and right use of freedom, preparing students to fulfill God’s calling in this world, and attaining the eternal kingdom for which they were created.

The Salvific Mission of the Church:  In the fullness of time, in His mysterious plan of love, God the Father sent His only Son to begin the Kingdom of God on earth and bring about the spiritual rebirth of mankind.  To continue His work of salvation, Jesus Christ founded the Church as a visible organism, living by the power of the Spirit.

Moved by the same Spirit, the Church is constantly deepening her awareness of herself and meditating on the mystery of her being and mission.  Thus she is ever rediscovering her living relationship with Christ “in order to discover greater light, energy, and joy in fulfilling her mission and determining the best way to ensure that her relationship with humanity is closer and more efficacious”—that humanity of which she is a part and yet so undeniably distinct.  Her destiny is to serve humanity until it reaches its fullness in Christ.

Evangelization is, therefore, the mission of the Church; that is she must proclaim the good news of salvation to all, generate new creatures in Christ through Baptism, and train them to live knowingly as children of God.

Means available for the Mission of the Church:To carry out her saving mission, the Church uses, above all, the means which Jesus Christ has given her.  She also uses other means which at different times and in different cultures have proved effective in achieving and, promoting the development of the human person.  The Church adapts these means to the changing conditions and emerging needs of mankind.  In her encounter with differing cultures and with man’s progressive achievements, the Church proclaims the faith and reveals “to all ages the transcendent goal which alone gives life its full meaning.”

She establishes her own schools because she considers them as a privileged means of promoting the formation of the whole man, since the school is a centre in which a specific concept of the world, of man, and of history is developed and conveyed…  It is precisely in the Gospel of Christ, taking root in the minds and lives of the faithful, that the Catholic school finds its definition as it comes to terms with the cultural conditions of the times.  It must never be forgotten that the purpose of instruction at school is education, that is, the development of man from within, freeing him from that conditioning which would prevent him from becoming a fully integrated human being.  The school must begin from the principle that its educational program is intentionally directed to the growth of the whole person.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #5-9)

Catholic education is an expression of the mission entrusted by Jesus to the Church He founded.  Through education, the Church seeks to prepare its members to proclaim the Good News and to translate this proclamation into action.  Since the Christian vocation is a call to transform oneself and society with God’s help, the educational efforts of the Church must encompass the twin purposes of personal sanctification and the social reform in light of Christian values.  (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, To Teach as Jesus Did (1972), #7)

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.  Amen (Matthew 28:19-20)

Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News.  First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth (cf.  Spe Salvi, 4).  (Pope Benedict, XVI, Meeting With Catholic Educators (2008), Washington, DC)

Christ is the foundation of the whole educational enterprise in a Catholic school.  His revelation gives new meaning to life and helps man to direct his thought, action and will according to the Gospel, making the beatitudes his norm of life.  The fact that in their own individual ways all members of the school community share this Christian vision, makes the school “Catholic”; principles of the Gospel in this manner become the educational norms since the school then has them as its internal motivation and final goal.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #34)

From the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic school, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith, and having its own unique characteristics…  The Gospel spirit should be evident in a Christian way of thought and life which permeates all facets of the educational climate.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (1988), #25)

The implementation of a real educational community, built on the foundation of shared projected values, represents a serious task that must be carried out by the Catholic school…  The preparation of a shared project acts as a stimulus that should force the Catholic school to be a place of ecclesial experience.  Its binding force and potential for relationships derive from a set of values and a communion of life that is rooted in our common belonging to Christ.  Derived from the recognition of evangelical values are educational norms, motivational drives and also the final goals of the school.  Certainly the degree of participation can differ in relation to one’s personal history, but this requires that educators be willing to offer a permanent commitment to formation and self-formation regarding a choice of cultural and life values to be made present in the educational community.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Together in Catholic Schools, A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (2007), #5)

When Christians say communion, they refer to the eternal mystery, revealed in Christ, of the communion of love that is the very life of God-Trinity.  At the same time we also say that Christians share in this communion in the Body of Christ which is the Church (cf.  Phil 1: 7; Rev 1: 9).  Communion is, therefore, the “essence” of the Church, the foundation and source of its mission of being in the world “the home and the school of communion,” to lead all men and women to enter ever more profoundly into the mystery of Trinitarian communion and, at the same time, to extend and strengthen internal relations within the human community.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Together in Catholic Schools, A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (2007), #10)

Since true education must strive for complete formation of the human person that looks to his or her final end as well as to the common good of societies, children and youth are to be nurtured in such a way that they are able to develop their physical, moral, and intellectual talents harmoniously, acquire a more perfect sense of responsibility and right use of freedom, and are formed to participate actively in social life.  (Code of Canon Law, 795)

To fulfill the mandate she has received from her divine founder of proclaiming the mystery of salvation to all men and of restoring all things in Christ, Holy Mother the Church must be concerned with the whole of man’s life, even the secular part of it insofar as it has a bearing on his heavenly calling.  Therefore she has a role in the progress and development of education.  Hence this sacred synod declares certain fundamental principles of Christian education especially in schools.  (Pope Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, Declaration on Christian Education (1965), Introduction)

Education today is a complex task, which is made more difficult by rapid social, economic, and cultural changes.  Its specific mission remains the integral formation of the human person.  Children and young people must be guaranteed the possibility of developing harmoniously their own physical, moral, intellectual and spiritual gifts, and they must also be helped to develop their sense of responsibility, learn the correct use of freedom, and participate actively in social life (cf.  c. 795 Code of Canon Law [CIC]; c.  629 Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches [CCEO]).  A form of education that ignores or marginalises the moral and religious dimension of the person is a hindrance to full education, because “children and young people have a right to be motivated to appraise moral values with a right conscience, to embrace them with a personal adherence, together with a deeper knowledge and love of God.”  That is why the Second Vatican Council asked and recommended “all those who hold a position of public authority or who are in charge of education to see to it that youth is never deprived of this sacred right.”  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Circular Letter to the Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences on Religious Education in Schools (2009), #1)

It is important for Catholic schools to be aware of the risks that arise should they lose sight of the reasons why they exist…  Catholic schools are called to give dutiful witness, by their pedagogy that is clearly inspired by the Gospel…  They have the responsibility for offering Catholic students, over and above a sound knowledge of religion, the possibility to grow in personal closeness to Christ in the Church.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating in Intercultural Dialogue in the Catholic School: Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love (2013), #56)

The young people we are educating today will become the leaders of the 2050s.  What will religion’s contribution be to educating younger generations to peace, development, fraternity in the universal human community?  How are we going to educate them to faith and in faith?  How will we establish the preliminary conditions to accept this gift, to educate them to gratitude, to a sense of awe, to asking themselves questions, to develop a sense of justice and consistency?  How will we educate them to prayer?  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion (2014), III)

What Does It Mean to Be a Catholic Teacher?

The Catholic teacher’s vocation is to participate in the saving mission of the Church and to assist in the building of the Body of Christ.  The teacher is called by God to work for the sanctification of the world and to communicate truth.  The Catholic educator has special qualities of mind and heart and is led by the Spirit and the Gospel to make Christ known to others by a life filled with faith, hope, and charity.

Perfect schools are the result not so much of good methods as of good teachers, teachers who are thoroughly prepared and well-grounded in the matter they have to teach; who possess the intellectual and moral qualifications required by their important office; who cherish a pure and holy love for the youths confided to them, because they love Jesus Christ and His Church, of which these are the children of predilection; and who have therefore sincerely at heart the true good of family and country.  (Pope Pius XI, Divini Illius Magistri (1929), #88)

Beautiful indeed and of great importance is the vocation of all those who aid parents in fulfilling their duties and who, as representatives of the human community, undertake the task of education in schools.  This vocation demands special qualities of mind and heart, very careful preparation, and continuing readiness to renew and to adapt.  (Pope Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, Declaration on Christian Education (1965), #5)

For, “they share a common dignity from their rebirth in Christ.  They have the same filial grace and the same vocation to perfection.  They possess in common one salvation, one hope, and one undivided charity”.  Although it is true that, in the Church, “by the will of Christ, some are made teachers, dispensers of mysteries and shepherds on behalf of others, yet all share a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body of Christ”.  Every Christian, and therefore also every lay person, has been made a sharer in “the priestly, prophetic, and kingly functions of Christ”, and their apostolate “is a participation in the saving mission of the Church itself…  All are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself”.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #6)

One specific characteristic of the educational profession assumes its most profound significance in the Catholic educator: the communication of truth.  For the Catholic educator, whatever is true is a participation in Him who is the Truth; the communication of truth, therefore, as a professional activity, is thus fundamentally transformed into a unique participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, carried on through one’s teaching.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #16)

They live in the midst of the world’s activities and professions, and in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life; and there they are called by God so that by exercising their proper function and being led by the spirit of the Gospel they can work for the sanctification of the world from within, in the manner of leaven.  In this way they can make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope, and charity.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #7)

When it considers the tremendous evangelical resource embodied in the millions of lay Catholics who devote their lives to schools, it recalls the words with which the Second Vatican Council ended its Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, and “earnestly entreats in the Lord that all lay persons give a glad, generous, and prompt response to the voice of Christ, who is giving them an especially urgent invitation at this moment; …they should respond to it eagerly and magnanimously …and, recognizing that what is His is also their own (Phil.  2, 5), to associate themselves with Him in His saving mission…  Thus they can show that they are His co-workers in the various forms and methods of the Church’s one apostolate, which must be constantly adapted to the new needs of the times.  May they always abound in the works of God, knowing that they will not labour in vain when their labour is for Him (Cf.  I Cor. 15, 58)”.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #82)

Qualifications to Effectively Impart an Authentic Catholic Education

Those who oversee Catholic education recognize and depend on teachers to fulfill the goals and programs of the school.  Based on its divine mission, it is crucial for teachers in a Catholic school to be prepared to assume the responsibilities associated with both the spiritual and professional dimensions of their ministry in Catholic education.

The Spiritual Dimension

Catholic schools are called on to recruit teachers who are practicing Catholics and who can understand and accept the teachings of the Catholic Church and the moral demands of the Gospel, and contribute to strengthening Catholic identity and apostolic goals.  The Catholic educator is entrusted with and shares in the sanctifying and educational mission of the Church.  Each teacher must “consciously inspire his or her activity with the Christian concept of the person” in communion with the Church.  Participation and active engagement in the liturgical and sacramental life of the school provides a visible manifestation of their faith and commitment.  Catholic school personnel are called to be filled with Christian wisdom so as to guide students to Truth.  The Catholic educator is challenged to integrate religious truths and values into daily life, both in their private and professional lives, to personally guide and inspire their students into a deeper faith and more profound levels of human knowledge.

The instruction and education in a Catholic school must be grounded in the principles of Catholic doctrine; teachers are to be outstanding in correct doctrine and integrity of life.  (Code of Canon Law, 803 §2)

Catholic leadership is called upon to “recruit teachers who are practicing Catholics, who can understand and accept the teachings of the Catholic Church and the moral demands of the Gospel, and who can contribute to the achievement of the school’s Catholic identity and apostolic goals.  (U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Directory for Catechesis (2005), #231)

And if there is no trace of Catholic identity in the education, the educator can hardly be called a Catholic educator.  Some of the aspects of this living out of one’s identity are common and essential; they must be present no matter what the school is in which the lay educator exercises his or her vocation.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #25)

In today’s pluralistic world, the Catholic educator must consciously inspire his or her activity with the Christian concept of the person, in communion with the Magisterium of the Church.  It is a concept which includes a defense of human rights, but also attributes to the human person the dignity of a child of God…  It establishes the strictest possible relationship of solidarity among all persons; through mutual love and an ecclesial community.  It calls for the fullest development of all that is human… Finally, it proposes Christ, Incarnate Son of God and perfect Man, as both model and means; to imitate Him… (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #18)

To this lay person, as a member of this community, the family and the Church entrust the school’s educational endeavor.  Lay teachers must be profoundly convinced that they share in the sanctifying, and therefore educational mission of the Church; they cannot regard themselves as cut off from the ecclesial complex.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #24)

The lay Catholic working in a school is, along with every Christian, a member of the People of God…  Every Christian, and therefore also every lay person, has been made a sharer in “the priestly, prophetic, and kingly functions of Christ”, and their apostolate “is a participation in the saving mission of the Church itself…  All are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself”.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #6)

As a visible manifestation of the faith they profess and the life witness they are supposed to manifest, it is important that lay Catholics who work in a Catholic school participate simply and actively in the liturgical and sacramental life of the school.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #40)

Since the educative mission of the Catholic school is so wide, the teacher is in an excellent position to guide the pupil to a deepening of his faith and to enrich and enlighten his human knowledge with the data of the faith…  The teacher can form the mind and heart of his pupils and guide them to develop a total commitment to Christ, with their whole personality enriched by human culture.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #40)

A teacher who is full of Christian wisdom, well prepared in his own subject, does more than convey the sense of what he is teaching to his pupils.  Over and above what he says, he guides his pupils beyond his mere words to the heart of total Truth.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #41)

The integration of religious truth and values with the rest of life is brought about in the Catholic school not only by its unique curriculum, but, more important, by the presence of teachers who express an integrated approach to learning and living in their private and professional lives.  (U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops, To Teach as Jesus Did (1972), #104)

Most of all, students should be able to recognize authentic human qualities in their teachers.  They are teachers of the faith; however, like Christ, they must also be teachers of what it means to be human…  A teacher who has a clear vision of the Christian milieu and lives in accord with it will be able to help young people develop a similar vision, and will give them the inspiration they need to put it into practice.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (1988), #96)

The Professional Dimension

In a Catholic school, a teacher commits to make integral human formation the heart of the profession, a calling that is enhanced by adequate preparation in both secular and religious knowledge and pedagogical skills.  Qualifications for the classroom include creativity, management skills, and the ability to create an effective learning environment in which each student’s gifts and talents are acknowledged and respected.  Through the synthesis of faith, culture, and life, the Catholic educator integrates Gospel values into all aspects of the curriculum to demonstrate the relationship between knowledge and truth.  Professionalism, within the context of the Catholic teachings, is one of the most important characteristics of the teacher in living out an “ecclesial vocation” and includes preparation and ongoing development in the pedagogical, cultural, and psychological areas of the teacher’s work.  Teaching and learning cannot be based solely on a professional relationship but one built on mutual esteem, trust, respect, and friendliness with parents, students, members of school communities, and fellow Catholic educators.

Every person who contributes to integral human formation is an educator; but teachers have made integral human formation their very profession.  When, then, we discuss the school, teachers deserve special consideration: because of their number, but also because of the institutional purpose of the school.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #15)

The task of a teacher goes well beyond transmission of knowledge, although that is not excluded.  Therefore, if adequate professional preparation is required in order to transmit knowledge, then adequate professional preparation is even more necessary in order to fulfill the role of a genuine teacher.  It is an indispensable human formation, and without it, it would be foolish to undertake any educational work.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #16)

They should therefore be very carefully prepared so that both in secular and religious knowledge they are equipped with suitable qualifications and also with a pedagogical skill that is in keeping with the findings of the contemporary world.  (Pope Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, Declaration on Christian Education (1965), #8)

Professional competence is the necessary condition for openness to unleash its educational potential.  A lot is being required of teachers and managers: they should have the ability to create, invent and manage learning environments that provide plentiful opportunities; they should be able to respect students’ different intelligences and guide them towards significant and profound learning; they should be able to accompany their students towards lofty and challenging goals, cherish high expectations for them, involve and connect students to each other and the world.  Teachers must be able to pursue different goals simultaneously and face problem situations that require a high level of professionalism and preparation.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion (2014), #7)

The integral formation of the human person, which is the purpose of education, includes the development of all the human faculties of the students, together with preparation for professional life, formation of ethical and social awareness, becoming aware of the transcendental, and religious education.  Every school, and every educator in the school, ought to be striving “to form strong and responsible individuals, who are capable of making free and correct choices”, thus preparing young people “to open themselves more and more to reality, and to form in themselves a clear idea of the meaning of life” (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #17)

Professionalism is one of the most important characteristics in the identity of every lay Catholic.  The first requirement, then, for a lay educator who wishes to live out his or her ecclesial vocation, is the acquisition of a solid professional formation.  In the case of an educator, this includes competency in a wide range of cultural, psychological, and pedagogical areas.  However, it is not enough that the initial training be at a good level; this must be maintained and deepened, always bringing it up to date.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #27)

The synthesis between faith, culture and life that educators of the Catholic school are called to achieve is, in fact, reached “by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge through the subjects taught, in the light of the Gospel […and] in the growth of the virtues characteristic of the Christian”.  This means that Catholic educators must attain a special sensitivity with regard to the person to be educated in order to grasp not only the request for growth in knowledge and skills, but also the need for growth in humanity.  Thus educators must dedicate themselves “to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity”.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Together in Catholic Schools, A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (2007), #24)

The epistemological framework of every branch of knowledge has its own identity, both in content and methodology.  However, this framework does not relate merely to “internal” questions, touching upon the correct realization of each discipline.  Each discipline is not an island inhabited by a form of knowledge that is distinct and ring-fenced; rather, it is in a dynamic relationship with all other forms of knowledge, each of which expresses something about the human person and touches upon some truth.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating in Intercultural Dialogue in the Catholic School: Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love (2013), #64-67)

Teaching and learning are the two terms in a relationship that does not only involve the subject to be studied and the learning mind, but also persons: this relationship cannot be based exclusively on technical and professional relations, but must be nourished by mutual esteem, trust, respect and friendliness.  When learning takes place in a context where the subjects who are involved feel a sense of belonging, it is quite different from a situation in which learning occurs in a climate of individualism, antagonism and mutual coldness.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion (2014), #3)

Active participation in the activities of colleagues, in relationships with other members of the educational community; and especially in relationships with parents of the students, is extremely important.  In this way the objectives, programs, and teaching methods of the school in which the lay Catholic is working can be gradually impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #51)

Apostolic Witness and Conduct Required to Be an Authentic Christian Role Model

The Church relies on those who work in the teaching vocation to fulfill the mission of Catholic education and serve the students entrusted to their care.  Teachers are called on in a special way to make the Church present and operative, as through their witness they impart a distinctive character to Catholic schools.  The teacher in a Catholic school is deeply motivated to witness to a living encounter with Christ, the unique Teacher, and then live out the school’s values and ideals in word and action.  The teacher writes on the “very spirits of human beings,” forming relationships that assume enormous importance as the teacher confronts the problems associated with imparting a Christian vision of the world.  Permeated by Christian spirit, the Catholic teacher integrates culture and faith as well as faith and life.  The lay teacher in a Catholic school gives a concrete example of what it is to be a Christian living in a secular world.  The teacher demonstrates what it is to be an “ideal person” through a habitual attitude of service, a personal commitment to students, a fraternal solidarity with everyone, and living a life that is integrally moral.  Living with integrity in a pluralist society, the teacher is a “living mirror” by which those in the school community will see a reflected image of a life inspired by the Gospel.

It seems necessary to begin by trying to delineate the identity of the lay Catholics who work in a school; the way in which they bear witness to the faith will depend on this specific identity, in the Church and in this particular field of labor.  In trying to contribute to the investigation, it is the intention of this Sacred Congregation to offer a service to lay Catholics who work in schools (and who should have a clear idea of the specific character of their vocation), and also to the People of God (who need to have a true picture of the laity as an active element, accomplishing an important task for the entire Church through their labour).  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #5)

Therefore, “the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can she become the salt of the earth.”  In order to achieve this presence of the whole Church, and of the Savior whom she proclaims, lay people must be ready to proclaim the message through their words, and witness to it in what they do.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #9)

Intimately linked in charity to one another and to their students and endowed with an apostolic spirit, may teachers by their life as much as by their instruction bear witness to Christ, the unique Teacher.  (Pope Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, Declaration on Christian Education (1965), #8)

The project of the Catholic school is convincing only if carried out by people who are deeply motivated, because they witness to a living encounter with Christ, in whom alone “the mystery of man truly becomes clear”.  These persons, therefore, acknowledge a personal and communal adherence with the Lord, assumed as the basis and constant reference of the inter-personal relationship and mutual cooperation between educator and student.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating Together in Catholic Schools, A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful (2007), #4)

By their witness and their behavior teachers are of the first importance to impart a distinctive character to Catholic schools…  This must aim to animate them as witnesses of Christ in the classroom and tackle the problems of their particular apostolate, especially regarding a Christian vision of the world and of education, problems also connected with the art of teaching in accordance with the principles of the Gospel.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #78)

The integration of culture and faith is mediated by the other integration of faith and life in the person of the teacher.  The nobility of the task to which teachers are called demands that, in imitation of Christ, the only Teacher, they reveal the Christian message not only by word but also by every gesture of their behavior.  This is what makes the difference between a school whose education is permeated by the Christian spirit and one in which religion is only regarded as an academic subject like any other.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #43)

Catholic schools require people not only to know how to teach or direct an organization; they also require them, using the skills of their profession, to know how to bear authentic witness to the school’s values, as well as to their own continuing efforts to live out ever more deeply, in thought and deed, the ideals that are stated publicly in words.  (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating in Intercultural Dialogue in the Catholic School: Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love (2013), #80)

Thus, Catholic educators can be certain that they make human beings more human.  Moreover, the special task of those educators who are lay persons is to offer to their students a concrete example of the fact that people deeply immersed in the world, living fully the same secular life as the vast majority of the human family, possess this same exalted dignity.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #18)

Conduct is always much more important than speech; this fact becomes especially important in the formation period of students.  The more completely an educator can give concrete witness to the model of the ideal person that is being presented to the students, the more this ideal will be believed and imitated…  Without this witness, living in such an atmosphere, they may begin to regard Christian behavior as an impossible ideal.  It must never be forgotten that, in the crises “which have their greatest effect on the younger generations”, the most important element in the educational endeavor is “always the individual person: the person, and the moral dignity of that person which is the result of his or her principles, and the conformity of actions with those principles.” (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #32-33)

Professional commitment; support of truth, justice and freedom; openness to the point of view of others, combined with an habitual attitude of service; personal commitment to the students, and fraternal solidarity with everyone; a life that is integrally moral in all its aspects.  The lay Catholic who brings all of this to his or her work in a pluralist school becomes a living mirror, in whom every individual in the educational community will see reflected an image of one inspired by the Gospel.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #52)

Teaching has an extraordinary moral depth and is one of man’s most excellent and creative activities, for the teacher does not write on inanimate material, but on the very spirits of human beings.  The personal relations between the teacher and the students, therefore, assume an enormous importance and are not limited simply to giving and taking.  Moreover, we must remember that teachers and educators fulfill a specific Christian vocation and share an equally specific participation in the mission of the Church, to the extent that “it depends chiefly on them whether the Catholic school achieves its purpose.” (Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium (1997), #19)

Assimilation of Catholic Culture

The Catholic educator aims for the critical, systematic transmission of culture in light of faith through the Gospel values conveyed by the Church.  Communication must be oriented toward truth to develop in students a deeper level of understanding of what it means to be a responsible human being and cultivate virtues characteristic of a Christian.  The Catholic teacher accomplishes this through the synthesis of culture and faith as well as of faith and life.  All subjects are integrated and explored in a Christian worldview and from a Christian concept of the human person.  It is through Catholic education that students are able to grasp, appreciate, and assimilate the values that will guide them toward “eternal realities.” The Catholic teacher is crucial to this task, for it is through personal contact and the teacher’s “witness to faith,” as revealed through actions, that relationships grow in a dialogue of openness which allows the teacher to make Christ known to students.

The specific mission of the school, then, is a critical, systematic transmission of culture in the light of faith and the bringing forth of the power of Christian virtue by the integration of culture with faith and of faith with living.  Consequently, the Catholic school is aware of the importance of the Gospel-teaching as transmitted through the Catholic Church.  It is, indeed, the fundamental element in the educative process as it helps the pupil towards his conscious choice of living a responsible and coherent way of life.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #49)

For the accomplishment of this vast undertaking, many different educational elements must converge; in each of them, the lay Catholic must appear as a witness to faith.  An organic, critical, and value-oriented communication of culture clearly includes the communication of truth and knowledge; while doing this, a Catholic teacher should always be alert for opportunities to initiate the appropriate dialogue between culture and faith—two things which are intimately related—in order to bring the interior synthesis of the student to this deeper level.  It is, of course, a synthesis which should already exist in the teacher.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #29)

These premises indicate the duties and the content of the Catholic school.  Its task is fundamentally a synthesis of culture and faith, and a synthesis of faith and life: the first is reached by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge through the subjects taught, in the light of the Gospel; the second in the growth of the virtues characteristic of the Christian.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #37)

The communication of culture in an educational context involves a methodology, whose principles and techniques are collected together into a consistent pedagogy.  A variety of pedagogical theories exist; the choice of the Catholic educator, based on a Christian concept of the human person, should be the practice of a pedagogy which gives special emphasis to direct and personal contact with the students.  If the teacher undertakes this contact with the conviction that students are already in possession of fundamentally positive values, the relationship will allow for an openness and a dialogue which will facilitate an understanding of the witness to faith that is revealed through the behavior of the teacher.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (1982), #21)

The cultural heritage of mankind includes other values apart from the specific ambient of truth.  When the Christian teacher helps a pupil to grasp, appreciate and assimilate these values, he is guiding him towards eternal realities.  This movement towards the Uncreated Source of all knowledge highlights the importance of teaching for the growth of faith.  (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (1977), #42)

Let them do all they can to stimulate their students to act for themselves and even after graduation to continue to assist them with advice, friendship and by establishing special associations imbued with the true spirit of the Church.  (Pope Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, Declaration on Christian Education (1965), #8)

Conclusion

The Church’s magisterial teachings convey the immense responsibility that teachers assume in the ministry of the Catholic education.  In addition to professional qualifications, a Catholic school teacher must have an understanding of and commitment to the Church and be a “living mirror” of Christ by modeling a life inspired by the Gospel.10  In contemporary society, the challenges associated with imparting a Christian vision of the world, which is often seen as counter-cultural, require Catholic school teachers to be spiritually stable and faithful Christian role models.

Concern for the preparation, recruitment, development, and ongoing formation of Catholic teachers is a recurrent theme throughout the magisterial documents.  In 2005, the U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops in Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary & Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium stated, “The preparation and ongoing formation of teachers is vital if our schools are to remain truly Catholic in all aspects of school life… [to] allow the Gospel message and the living presence of Jesus to permeate the entire life of the school community and thus be faithful to the school’s evangelizing mission.”11 Reliance on laity to fulfill the educational mission of the Church requires not only teachers who have educational and managerial skills, but also teachers who are spiritually prepared to be witnesses of the faith to their students.

With today’s renewed focus on Catholic identity in schools, it is critical to encourage the witness of those who are tasked to impart education that is faithful to the teachings of the Church.  In Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion, the Congregation for Catholic Education laments the decline of “believers” among educators and asks, “How can a bond with Jesus Christ be established in this new educational context?”12  The Church in the United States must recommit to hiring policies that identify teachers who are suited to advancing the mission of Catholic education and to forming teachers as witness of the faith.  This is what the magisterial documents expect and what Catholic families deserve.

Our hope is that by making the Church’s rich and deep understanding of the role of Catholic teachers accessible to Catholic school leaders as well as the teachers themselves, enhanced discussions, new programs, and clarified expectations will assist in a new springtime of evangelization and a resurgence of Catholic education.