Identifying the marks of a Catholic culture in your school
By Louise “Toni” Moore
From the first moment a student sets foot in a Catholic school, there should be a striking sense that he or she is entering a special place — a distinctive environment illumined by the light of faith and alive with unique characteristics. The ultimate purpose of Catholic schools is to bring faith, culture, and life into harmony, as the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education noted in The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School. (Learn more at todayct.us/2NBlm7L). This challenging mandate can be best supported by assuring that a strong Catholic identity is present and evident in the school. Today, more than ever in our fast-paced, confused world, Catholic schools can be a stabilizing force for families and a beacon of faith for the Catholic Church.
The culture of a Catholic school expresses the core beliefs, traditions, symbols, and patterns of behavior that provide meaning to the school community and help shape the lives of students, teachers, and parents. The Catholic culture of a school, commonly referred to as its Catholic identity, is marked by both philosophical positions and the outward expressions of them.
The Catholic school is concerned with not just what one knows, but also what kind of person one becomes. The philosophy of the Catholic school is built on an educational process that forms the whole child to realize his or her human potential and become a contributing citizen of the world. It is inspired by a supernatural vision of heaven and real unity with Jesus Christ as the ultimate destination of our human journey.
One of the distinctive characteristics of Catholic school culture is positive anthropology. Respecting the human dignity of each child, the Catholic school sees the Gospel and the very person of Jesus Christ as the model and foundation for the school. This sense of positive anthropology creates a climate and a way of seeing each student, teacher, and parent as a gift to be developed. This attitude of respect and dignity permeates the Catholic school. It can be observed in the simplest interactions between students, teachers, and parents. Kindness and respectful care for one another become “the way we do things around here.”
Another mark of Catholic school culture is a sense of community. Catholic schools are animated by a strong and visible sense of community — a community of faith and learning. A genuine spirituality is worked out in relation to others. An individual’s knowledge and understanding of himself or herself will, in a mature state, involve reaching out to others and forming relationships with them. The opportunity to grow and develop within a caring community provides students with much needed support as they journey both spiritually and academically. Teamwork and collaboration among members are signs of community. Catholic schools encourage everyone to be involved in service to others. In a study of public, private, and Catholic schools, social scientist James Coleman found that Catholic schools provide social capital to their students, an intangible yet very real value. (Learn more at todayct.us/2N8YtZV). Social capital, an extra benefit of community, enhances the educational experience for Catholic-school students and yields lower dropout rates compared to other school settings.
Rituals and reverence are practiced by everyone in the school. Celebration of the Eucharist by the school community is important. In addition, prayer services, praying the rosary, and both individual and various forms of communal prayer are practiced regularly. Adherence to the liturgical calendar by being aware of and marking the seasons of the Church year is another practice that gives evidence to a Catholic culture.
Today is a good day to begin taking a close look at the Catholic culture in your school. With the eyes of a stranger, walk into your school and determine if you are able to see, hear, and sense an animated Catholic culture.
Do you see signs of Catholic culture in the artifacts that are present? Do you hear conversations that reflect a positive anthropology? Do you clearly sense that this is a special place in which Christ is the real teacher? Do you know this is a Catholic school as soon as you enter the building?
I wish you many blessings as you examine and continue to animate the Catholic culture in your school.
Louise “Toni” Moore, PhD, is an educational consultant at the University of Dayton.
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