- Mt. 28:18-20
Reason is the capacity to understand reality according to all its factors. Understanding reality includes everything from knowing how plants grow to understanding the meaning and origin of love. In order to grow our capacity for understanding reality we need the help of others. We need companions that invite us to see what they see and, hopefully, see even more. Education, then, is the introduction to reality according to all its factors.
Catholic education serves Jesus’ mission for the lost. He wants us to encounter his presence and enjoy the fulfillment of his promises in our lives. Catholic education, then, primarily seeks to introduce students to the reality of Jesus. In other words, Catholic education seeks to help students know Jesus as Lord and Savior.
In order to carry out this mission we need to have spiritual fathers and mothers staffing our Catholic schools. A spiritual father and mother is a Christian that has the same undying burning for the lost as Jesus. They are men and women who are excited to live out their role in the Great Commission, to help others meet Jesus and experience his abundance.
There are three stages that Jesus moved his disciples through in order to grow them into spiritual fathers. First, they experienced God in him. They were so changed by this God encounter that they were moved to repentance and wanted to learn more of his teaching. They began to follow him, live with him, and help in his mission. Jesus won them over.
For three years the apostles lived with Jesus. They saw everything. He even had them practice a little ministry. Their faith deepened and they experience more and more of his love. Jesus built them up.
After Jesus died he spent a period of time with them in his resurrected body. He authorized them to go out in the Great Commission and soon he would give them the power through the Holy Spirit to accomplish their mission. When the Holy Spirit came they would find out where they would go. Jesus sent them out.
Spiritual maturity requires that we consecutively go through the win/build/send stages and continue to go through them over and over again. We never stop seeking to experience the presence of Jesus. We never stop learning how to stay before the Living Water. And, of course, we never stop discerning his mission for the lost in our lives and going after it.
There are several problems we are grappling with in Catholic education. The first is that we have few spiritual fathers and mothers working in Catholic schools. We have many teachers and staff that don’t passionately love Jesus. They struggle identifying the last time they experienced his presence. They struggle with sharing their faith and praying with students. Moreover, the ones that do have a lively love for him often do not have the tools to be facilitators of Jesus encounters.
Another issue is that the majority of families that send to Catholic schools are not practicing their faith. This is a sign that they have not encountered Jesus. However, the majority of Catholic schools were designed to build off the faith of the students. Ultimately, we are skipping Jesus’ first stage and the students leave knowing about him but not knowing and loving him personally.
What is Catholic identity for a Catholic high school?
Catholic identity doesn’t consist of adding more school Masses and confession times, more crucifixes, and more robes and veils. What makes a Catholic school Catholic is when it is filled with spirit-filled leaders that look for every opportunity to extend the mission of Jesus.
A school is Catholic when we have teachers and staff that love Jesus with their whole hearts, minds, souls, and strength. They love Jesus and they thirst for new and effective ways to share what they have received with others. Their job isn’t simply to put food on the table or assure that their own children can go to a Catholic school. Their jobs are the means to extend the Kingdom of God. Until we have the great majority of our teachers and staff members ready and equipped for the mission, we will yield very little results.
How do we increase Catholic identity?
The only way we can carry out Jesus’ mission is through spiritually mature Christians. Since our mission is contingent upon them, we need to show this value in the time and energy we spend attracting them to our schools for employment. If successful businesses can attract the right employee for their mission, then we certainly can do the same.
As for the current teachers and staff that are not spiritually mature, we need to show them the next steps in their faith. If they refuse to grow, then we have to let them go. Regarding the others that are willing to try, we need to provide them time and concrete help to catch them up. If they don’t catch up in a designated time, they need to be let go for the sake of Jesus’ mission to the students. While all of this can be a very painful process we have to place the students’ needs at the forefront.
The fact is that Catholic schoolteachers are amazing people. They make many, and often unseen, sacrifices to contribute to the mission of Christ. They are not failures. The issue is that the needs of the students have radically changed and this requires us to make some major adjustments.
Are there any other considerations?
What is often not realized is that many dioceses require the local churches to subsidize the Catholic schools. Many churches give 50% of their Sunday collection to these assessments. If the small to mid-sized parish brings in 100K a year, they only have 50K to pay for the pastor’s salary, part-time bookkeeper, maintenance for the church and rectory, etc… This means they will not have enough money for hiring a youth minister, director of religious education, and other essential ministries. What is at stake is the growth of the parish. As a result, we have to choose between the growth of the school over that of the parish.
What we also need to understand is that we are at a critical time in American history. The statistical data is out there that shows younger people are no longer going to Mass as they once did. Most of the money that is donated to the church comes from the older Catholics. It is predicted that within 10-15 years the remaining gen-x and millennial Catholics will be too few to financially care for the smaller local parish unless this population grows. But populations will struggle to grow unless valuable resources support parish ministries.
Perhaps if we could statistically prove that Catholic schools lead a significant number of students to life-changing conversions, then we might be able to justify supporting the schools at the expense of the parish. However, it seems only a couple students a year go from non-practicing to practicing Christians in a given Catholic school.
We need measurable results from our ministries. Some fruit will only be known when we get to Heaven. Nevertheless, God wants and enables us to discern wisely how to use our resources. Some might believe that we cannot expect conversions to take place in Catholic schools. However, the Scriptures and Christian history shows that conversions can take place anywhere if we have the right people with the right tools in the right places.
1) Effective managerial principles and methods apply equally in both secular and Catholic institutions. What are they? How do we bring the best out of our teachers and staff?
2) Spiritual parents firmly believe they are on mission for Jesus. They not only can pray with people but they zealously look for opportunities to pray with others. They are able to share with others how Jesus has made their lives better and happier. They know how to hear the voice of God. They are able to share the kerygma. What else can a spiritual parent do?
3) For those staff and faculty members that are willing to grow into spiritual fathers and mothers, what concrete things do we need to do in our weekly formation meetings with them?
4) On college campuses around the nation we find zealous and bold Catholics looking to go on mission for Jesus. How do we attract them to our schools for employment?