The Identity Crisis in Catholic Schools
By: Deacon Keith A. Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
From January 28 through February 3, 2007, we observed Catholic Schools Week in the Catholic Dioceses of the United States of America. The theme for the week was, “Good News in Education”. Materials were sent to every Catholic School in the United States along with offers for clothing, posters, and other self congratulatory items. I do not believe it is a time to send up balloons. Rather, it is a time for deep soul searching concerning the state of Catholic schools; time for real honesty. It is also a time to roll up our sleeves and get to work. There is an identity crisis in many Catholic schools. My purpose in this article is to examine some of the challenges we must face and to propose that the only path to recovery is through the rediscovery and reaffirmation of the purpose, nature and mission of Catholic education.
There is much to affirm about Catholic Schools. In some Dioceses, the faithful are witnessing a true restoration and flourishing of Catholic education. However, there are too many places where that restoration is not yet occurring. I believe that it can and will, if the purpose, nature and mission of Catholic education is articulated by leaders and then our schools are properly led. We must first identify the most significant impediment to the flourishing of Catholic Schools, the roadblock to authentic progress if we truly want to move them toward vision that the Church has so clearly and eloquently articulated in her wonderful pronouncements concerning Catholic education. Here it is, in what some may believe is “simplistic” but which I maintain is absolutely fundamental: many Catholic schools have lost their Catholic identity. They suffer from an identity crisis.
I write as a member of the Clergy, a Deacon, who is absolutely convinced that the work of training the next generation of Catholic men and women to carry on the work of the Church for the Third Christian Millennium is among the most important of the tasks that the Church faces. Without a proper education, they simply will not be adequately prepared for the challenge which has been presented to the Church of the Third Millennium, We face a culture which, particularly in the West, is left with little remnant of Christian influence. It was Alasdair McIntyre who is credited with having said: The Creed of the English is that there is no God, but it is meet and proper to pray to Him now and again”. This is essentially the state of religious influence in Western culture; we live as though God does not exist while continuing to externally reference a feigned religiosity. In short, the West is now mission country and every student at a Catholic school is a future missionary.
I write as an educator. I currently teach at a Catholic school while I serve a parish and pursue a PhD in Moral Theology. I have chaired or served on school boards and have held academic and administrative positions, including that of a College Dean at a Catholic College. Even more importantly, I am a Catholic father who has had the experience of raising children in the first Catholic school, the domestic church of the Christian family, and my wife and I have had a mixed experience during the childrearing years in finding Catholic Schools that truly understood and lived the mission of the Catholic Church in a way that would make the tuition worth spending. In addition, I am now a Catholic grandfather and I want my grandchildren to receive the treasure and beauty of an authentically Catholic education. Finally, I write as a Catholic citizen who after years of service as a lawyer, social activist and public policy advocate is convinced that only the teaching of the Catholic Church has what is needed to set the ship of western civilization aright. Thus, it is not theory to me but lived reality when I affirm with conviction that only through an authentically Catholic education can the next generation be prepared for the mission of the Church.
Finally, in an age seemingly intoxicated on “rights talk”, it is important to note that our children deserve a fully Catholic Education. The first right is the right to receive the truth. After all, the children in our Catholic schools are not ours. They belong to the Lord. We gave them back to Him and to His Church at the font of Baptism. The future and the culture cry out for a new generation of Catholic men and women who understand the implications of their faith on the entirety of their lives and are motivated by their faith to take their place within every segment of society and build. These kinds of men and women do not appear on the scene through happenstance; they must be properly educated and then enlisted in the mission of the Church.
The Separation Between Faith and Life
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