Catholic schools “essential and integral” to the ministry of the Church

The mission and foundation of Catholic education is directly linked to evangelism, said the head of the National Association for Catholic Education.

Catholic schools are forced to evangelize simply because it is the heart and mission of the Catholic Church, according to Thomas Burnford, president and CEO of the NCEA.

“The apostles proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ, and Catholic schools are an essential and integral ministry of the Catholic Church,” he told Catholic News Service.

Across the country, 1.8 million students are enrolled in 6,300 Catholic schools, he noted. In addition, 80% of the students are Catholic and the remaining 20% ​​are non-Catholic.

Despite the percentage difference, the mission of Catholic education is the same for Catholic and non-Catholic students, Burnford explained.

“The teaching of the faith, the way in which we fully bear witness to the Catholic faith to Catholic students is the same for all students. All students are invited and welcomed to participate fully in the whole culture of the school, the training of school and school life, ”said Burnford.

Evangelism is present in schools because students are presented with a Catholic worldview that reveals the reality of God and the gospel through the curriculum, he said.

“In this way, we evangelize the students giving them a real understanding of the world and of society. Everyone in a Catholic school is drawn into the process of evangelism and outreach, ”said Burnford.

Recognizing the inherent relationship between Catholic education and evangelism in the presence of faith, community and identity, Pope Francis said in a June 2018 address: “Schools and universities must be cohesive and show a continuity between their fundamental mission and the Church’s mission of evangelization. “

He delivered the speech to members of the Gravissimum Educationis Foundation, which he created in October 2015 at the invitation of the Congregation for Catholic Education to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vatican Council II’s Declaration on Education Christian.

In the same speech, Pope Francis offered a challenge to the members of the foundation, which aims to renew the dedication of the church to Catholic education, saying: “To accomplish your mission, you must therefore lay the foundations. in a manner consistent with our Christian identity. , put in place means adapted to the quality of studies and research and pursue objectives in harmony with the service of the common good. “

Elisabeth Sullivan, executive director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, identified roles within Catholic schools that help bring Catholic and non-Catholic students together. “I think Catholic schools have a unique opportunity to provide hope in a world increasingly beset by despair. A world without God is a world without hope,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan believes that Catholic education is uniquely distinguished from other education systems because of its long tradition of transmitting the inherent and inseparable relationship between faith and reason. Therefore, Catholic schools “are restoring what the industrialized model of education has taken out of the classroom – an understanding of the meaning and purpose of things,” she told CNS.

Catholic education poses the deepest questions, regarding the nature of something and its purpose, according to Sullivan. “Secular education cannot offer this, cannot decide on a direction or a goal, so it has to stay away, and therefore, it is incomplete,” she explained.

Mary Pat Donoghue, executive director of the Secretariat of Catholic Education at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC, expressed a similar view regarding evangelistic efforts in Catholic schools. Donoghue said that because training in a Catholic school is such an integral part, students do not only learn religious doctrine in a religion class.

“What we seek to do is bring forward the intellectual tradition of the church and train their minds in all the content and areas they study. It is a great tool for evangelism because it exposes children not only to Catholic practices, concerning prayer and the liturgy, but also to a Catholic understanding of reality. “

Donoghue hopes Catholic schools will continue to fulfill their mission of bringing children and young adults into a relationship with Christ.

As populations change, she said, many Catholic schools will be located in new areas, creating a changing landscape. However, Donoghue said Catholic education in America has been around for centuries and “will renew itself by turning to the church’s own tradition and this may be the way forward in the future.”

Charles K. Eckert