THE VALUE OF CATHOLIC SCHOOLS
Prof. Michael Ogunu
On October 28, 1965, the Second Vatican Council promulgated the Declaration on Christian Education Gravissimum educationis. The document describes the distinguishing characteristics of a Catholic school in this way: “The Catholic school pursues cultural goals and the natural development of youth to the same degree as any other schools. What makes the Catholic school distinctive is its attempt to generate a community climate in the school that is permeated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and love. It tries to guide the adolescents in such a way that personality development goes hand in hand with the development of the ‘new creature’ that each one has become through baptism. It tries to relate all of human culture to the good news of salvation so that the light of faith will illuminate everything that the students will gradually come to learn about the world, about life, and about the human person”.
The Council, therefore, declared that what makes the Catholic school distinctive is its religious dimension, and that this is to be found in (a) the education climate, (b) the personal development of each student, (c) the relationship established between culture and the Gospel (d) the illumination of all knowledge with the light of faith.
In light of Canon 803, which focuses on the bishop's acceptance of each “Catholic” school, it is implied that the school which desires to be “Catholic” should also identify itself with the Catholic Church and its mission. In its document captioned, The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, The Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education (1988, 66) clearly states that, “the Catholic school finds its true justification in the mission of the Church”.
The Catholic school is therefore a place of evangelization, of authentic apostolate and of pastoral action, not through complementary or parallel or extracurricular activity, but by its very nature: its work of educating the Christian person.
The immediate and specific purpose of Christian education, according to the Catholic Church Policy on Education in Nigeria issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria is “to cooperate with divine grace in forming the true and perfect Christian to express and form Christ Himself in those who have been generated by baptism”. Children and young persons are therefore to be cared for in such a way that their physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual senses develop in a harmonious manner so that they may attain a greater sense of responsibility and right use of freedom, and be formed to take an active part in local life (Can. 795 of the Code of Canon Law).
Catholic schools are concerned about the total development of the whole person. Every school allows some “horizontal” interaction among teachers and students. In addition, Catholic schools offer “vertical” interaction through prayer, the fullest and most complete expression of the religious dimension. An aspect of the religious dimension of Catholic schools indicates that students learn not only personal, but liturgical prayers, especially through participation in the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Although the Catholic school is similar to other schools in many ways, the Congregation for Catholic Education names one essential difference: it draws its inspiration and its strength from the gospel in which it is rooted.
The special character of the Catholic school and the underlying reason for its existence is precisely the quality of the religious instruction integrated into the overall education of the students (John Paul II, 1979). By promoting the integration of faith and life models, the schools implant the belief that faith cannot be considered something that is only personal or unimportant. It remains an integral part of the human person.
Why Do We Value Our Catholic Primary and Secondary Schools?
We value our Catholic primary and secondary schools because they are the means by which we provide young people with an academically rigorous and doctrinally sound programme of education and faith formation designed to strengthen their union with Christ and his Church. Catholic schools collaborate with parents and guardians in raising and forming their children as families struggle with the changing and challenging cultural and moral contexts in which they find themselves. Catholic schools provide young people with sound Church teaching through a broad-based curriculum, where faith and culture are intertwined in all areas of a school's life. By equipping our young people with a sound education, rooted in the Gospel message, the Person of Jesus Christ, and rich in the cherished traditions and liturgical practices of our faith, we ensure that they have the foundation to live morally and uprightly in our complex modern world. This unique Catholic identity makes our Catholic primary and secondary schools "schools for the human person" and allows them to fill a critical role in the future life of our Church, our country, and our world (The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, no. 9).
It is made abundantly clear in an unbroken list of statements, from the documents of the Second Vatican Council to Pope John Paul II’s Exhortations that Catholic schools play a vital role in the evangelizing mission of the Church. They are the privileged environment in which Christian education is carried out.
Catholic schools are at once places of evangelization, of complete formation, of inculturation, of apprenticeship in a lively dialogue between young people of different religions and social backgrounds (The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, no. 11).
In Catholic schools, children grow to understand the roots of their faith and their responsibility as Christians.
Catholic schools stress the value of self-discipline and commitment.
Catholic schools encourage each student to accept the challenges of being a Christian in tomorrow’s world.
Catholic schools encourage family input and involvement in the ongoing education of their children. Research shows that such a partnership results in higher attendance rates and lower dropout rates.
Catholic schools strive to create a special bond among the students, the home, the school and the Church, so that all share the strong sense of community.
In 1990, the Catholic bishops of the United States issued a statement captioned: In Support of Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools. In it they affirmed their strong conviction that Catholic elementary and secondary schools are of great value to the Church and their nation; and that, in their role as chief teachers, they are each responsible for the total educational ministry of the local Church. They affirmed that "the entire ecclesial community ... is called to value ever more deeply the importance of this task and mission, and to continue to give it full and enthusiastic support." Our Catholic schools afford the fullest and best opportunity to realize the fourfold purpose of Christian education, namely to provide an atmosphere in which the Gospel message is proclaimed, community in Christ is experienced, service to our sisters and brothers is the norm, and thanksgiving and worship of our God is cultivated.
Let us therefore continue to appeal to government to hand over to the Catholic Mission the schools taken over from them and support the funding of the ones presently under their control to make them affordable to the poor.
Copyright © Professor Michael Ogunu 2015
Version: 5th May 2015