April 25, 2019
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DR#: 16 Mission of a Catholic School ‘OLD’ and ‘NEW’ to Teach as Jesus Did and Other U.S. Church Documents


(adapted from CONSECRATED PERSONS AND THEIR MISSION IN SCHOOLS, pp. 11-13, nos. 15-21)

Under the action of the Spirit, the Church has come to increasingly understand itself as the Pilgrim People of God. At the same time, we see ourselves as the Body of Christ in intimate relationships with each other and with Christ, himself.

It is first and foremost necessary to promote a sense of community. This community is a reflection of the mystery of the Trinity, whose light is reflected in the face of every person welcomed and appreciated as gift.

Educators in Catholic schools are called to build community, promoting relationships that encourage the exchange of gifts between all the members of the People of God. The school is a place of mission, where the prophetic role conferred by baptism is fulfilled. The school is fertile ground in which the Kingdom of God grows and bears fruit.

This commitment to community requires both education and formation. Education helps young people grasp their identity and reveal their needs and desires for authenticity, honesty, love, fidelity, truth, consistency, happiness, and fullness of life.

Formation offers an authentic proposal for guiding young people, preventing their desires from being deformed or only partially achieved. By the testimony of their lives, adults model to the young a life inspired by Christ in which true joy and authentic fulfillment are possible.

In the final analysis, education and formation culminate in the supreme human desire: to see the face of God.

Through this experience, the participant will:

  • understand the importance of showing students the Lord’s merciful love;
  • deepen their commitment to encourage young people to serve others;
  • understand the role of education and formation in guiding young people to human fulfillment.
  • Rule of Life; Brothers of the Sacred Heart; Chapter 10 Apostolic Life; nos. 155 – 159.
  • THE RELIGIOUS DIMENSION OF EDUCATION IN A CATHOLIC SCHOOL: Guidelines for reflection and renewal. The Congregation for Catholic Education, Rome 1988. Part Four: Religious Instruction in the Classroom and the Religious Dimension of Formation 1. The nature of religious instruction pp. 33-35, nos. 66-70. Part Five: A General Summary: The Religious Dimension of the Formation Process as a Whole 1. What is a Christian formation process pp. 51-51, nos. 98-99.
Options for Additional Readings
  • To Teach as Jesus Did. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, November 1972. I. To Teach as Jesus Did: pp. 3-9; nos. 5-10, 13-31; III. Giving Form to the Vision: pp. 28-35; nos. 101-126
  • THE CATHOLIC SCHOOL. The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, March 19, 1977. III. The School as a Center of Human Formation pp. 9-10, nos. 25-32; The educational work of the Catholic school: pp. 11-18, nos. 33-63; V. The Responsibility of the Catholic School Today pp. 18-20, nos. 64-68.
  • DISTINCTIVE QUALITIES OF THE CATHOLIC SCHOOL: NCEA Keynote Series, No. 1.Fr. Edwin J. McDermott, sj, National Catholic Educational Association, 1985. Educational goals: pp. 12—21.
  • THE RELIGIOUS DIMENSION OF EDUCATION IN A CATHOLIC SCHOOL: Guidelines for reflection and renewal. The Congregation for Catholic Education, Rome 1988. pp 24-32, nos. 51-65; pp 35-49, nos. 71-95; pp 52-59, nos. 100-112.
Suggestions for Journal Reflection
  1. Describe one key way in which your school builds and lives community?
  2. What convinces you that you are needed – that you are a resource for evangelizing the world?
  3. How does your ministry continue to form and educate you, both spiritually and intellectually?

You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. (Jn 13:13-15) I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are disciples, if you have love for one another. (Jn 13:34-35)

Lord, you have placed me in a position of leadership and I thank you. Help me by my words and actions each day to be an example of fidelity and a model of loving and generous service for the young people before me. We ask this in your name. Amen.


Rule of Life

155. Context of the School
We work in schools of all types
and hold key positions
in the field of education as the need arises.
We attach great importance
to the formation
of new generations of teachers,
to the Christian animation of teaching teams,
and to the promotion of social respect
for the teaching profession.
Among the diverse calls which reach us,
we give preference to deprived children
and to less developed regions.

156. School Community
Christian education cannot easily be realized
without the witness of a school community
which is built on close relationships
among teachers, parents, students,
and the local people.
We wholeheartedly support the establishment
of programs for participation and animation
which give dynamism
to the school community,
especially through the search
for a common educational vision.

157. Christian Mission of the School
We share with the lay teachers
the responsibility for the religious
and moral formation of the students,
creating an atmosphere
of understanding and generosity
which awakens in young people
a sense of community
and a desire to serve others.
In this way, we are helping
to form a dedicated laity
and to develop religious,
priestly, and missionary vocations.
We are also supplementing
the formation given in the family
and carrying out
the educational mission of the Church.

158. Education in the Faith
Christian education is often associated
with schooling and cultural development.
It fills the school with the spirit of the Gospel.
We carry out our role as educators in the faith
especially through the teaching of religion,
which leads the young
to an enlightened and close union with Christ.
To accomplish this goal and to kindle
in our students a desire for the interior life,
it is essential
that we cultivate a dynamic relationship
both with them and with the Lord.

159. Apostolic and Moral Awareness
In an atmosphere of respect and trust,
we educate the young
to a sense of personal responsibility.
We also attempt to challenge them
to become involved in social ministry,
to promote justice and peace,
and to appreciate the value of sharing.
We support those students involved
in movements and extra-curricular groups
which promote
human and Christian formation,
as well as those who feel called
to a special vocation
within the Church or society.

The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School




1. The nature of religious instruction

The mission of the Church is to evangelize, for the interior transformation and the renewal of humanity.58 For young people, the school is one of the ways for this evangelization to take place.59 It may be profitable to recall what the Magisterium has said: “Together with and in collaboration with the family, schools provide possibilities for catechesis that must not be neglected.… This refers especially to the Catholic school, of course: it would no longer deserve the title if, no matter how good its reputation for teaching in other areas, there were just grounds for a reproach of negligence or deviation in religious education properly so-called. It is not true that such education is always given implicitly or indirectly. The special character of the Catholic school and the underlying reason for its existence, the reason why Catholic parents should prefer it, is precisely the quality of the religious instruction integrated into the overall education of the students.”60

Sometimes there is an uncertainty, a difference of opinion, or an uneasiness about the underlying principles governing religious formation in a Catholic school, and therefore about the concrete approach to be taken in religious instruction. On the one hand, a Catholic school is a “civic institution;” its aim, methods and characteristics are the same as those of every other school. On the other hand, it is a “Christian community,” whose educational goals are rooted in Christ and his Gospel. It is not always easy to bring these two aspects into harmony; the task requires constant attention, so that the tension between a serious effort to transmit culture and a forceful witness to the Gospel does not turn into a conflict harmful to both.

There is a close connection, and at the same time a clear distinction, between religious instruction and catechesis, or the handing on of the Gospel message.61 The close connection makes it possible for a school to remain a school and still integrate culture with the message of Christianity. The distinction comes from the fact that, unlike religious instruction, catechesis presupposes that the hearer is receiving the Christian message as a salvific reality. Moreover, catechesis takes place within a community living out its faith at a level of space and time not available to a school: a whole lifetime.

The aim of catechesis, or handing on the Gospel message, is maturity: spiritual, liturgical, sacramental and apostolic; this happens most especially in a local Church community. The aim of the school however, is knowledge. While it uses the same elements of the Gospel message, it tries to convey a sense of the nature of Christianity, and of how Christians are trying to live their lives. It is evident, of course, that religious instruction cannot help but strengthen the faith of a believing student, just as catechesis cannot help but increase one’s knowledge of the Christian message.

The distinction between religious instruction and catechesis does not change the fact that a school can and must play its specific role in the work of catechesis. Since its educational goals are rooted in Christian principles, the school as a whole is inserted into the evangelical function of the Church. It assists in and promotes faith education.

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.”62 School directors should keep this directive of the Magisterium in mind, and they should respect the distinctive characteristics of religious instruction. It should have a place in the weekly order alongside the other classes, for example; it should have its own syllabus, approved by those in authority; it should seek appropriate interdisciplinary links with other course material so that there is a coordination between human learning and religious awareness. Like other course work, it should promote culture, and it should make use of the best educational methods available to schools today. In some countries, the results of examinations in religious knowledge are included within the overall measure of student progress.

Finally, religious instruction in the school needs to be coordinated with the catechesis offered in parishes, in the family, and in youth associations.


58 Evangelii nuntiandi, 18: “For the Church to evangelize is to bring the Good News to all aspects of humanity and, through its in­fluence, to transform it from within, making humanity itself into something new.”

59 Ibid., 44: “The effort to evangelize will bring great profit, through catechetical instruction given at Church, in schools wherever this is possible, and always within the Christian family.”

60 Catechesi tradendae, 69.

61 cf The address of Paul VI at the Wednesday audience of May 31, 1967, Insegnamenti, V, 1967, p. 788.

62 Address of John Paul II to the priests of the diocese of Rome, March 5, 1981, Insegnamenti, IV/1, pp 629 ff.





1. What is a Christian formation process?

The declaration of the Council insists on the dynamic nature of integral human formation,106 but it adds immediately that, from a Christian point of view, human development by itself is not sufficient. Education “does not merely strive to foster in the human person the maturity already described. Rather, its principal aims are these: that as the baptized person is gradually introduced into a knowledge of the mystery of salvation, he or she may daily grow more conscious of the gift of faith which has been received .…”107 What characterizes a Catholic school, therefore, is that it guide students in such a way “that the development of each one’s own personality will be matched by the growth of that new creation which he or she became by baptism.”108 We need to think of Christian education as a movement or a growth process, directed toward an ideal goal which goes beyond the limitations of anything human.109 At the same time the process must be harmonious, so that Christian formation takes place within and in the course of human formation. The two are not separate and parallel paths; they are complementary forms of education which become one in the goals of the teacher and the willing reception of the students. The Gospel notes this harmonious growth in the child Jesus.110

A Christian formation process might therefore be described as an organic set of elements with a single purpose: the gradual development of every capability of every student, enabling each one to attain an integral formation within a context that includes the Christian religious di­mension and recognizes the help of grace. But what really matters is not the terminology but the reality, and this reality will be assured only if all the teachers unite their educational efforts in the pursuit of a common goal. Sporadic, partial, or uncoordinated efforts, or a situation in which there is a conflict of opinion among the teachers, will interfere with rather than assist in the students’ personal development.

106 Gravissimum educationis, 1: “Children and young people should be assisted in the harmonious development of their physical, moral and intellectual gifts... They should be helped to acquire gradually a more mature sense of responsibility.…”

107 Ibid., 2.

108 Ibid., 8.

109 cf Mt 5:48.

110 Lk 2:40: “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” Lk 2:52: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and with men.”

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