The church has a mandate to proclaim the Good News, to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19) and to renew all things in Christ. The Catholic school is “the lifeline for the Church” and “an essential instrument for spreading and deepening the faith, for the expansion of Christianity and the Kingdom of God. In partnership with the family and the parish, the Catholic school shares in the saving mission of the Church by teaching Christian truth. Its students are educated to “promote effectively the welfare of the earthly city” and to contribute to the growth of God’s reign here on earth.
The graduates of the Catholic school are called to become part of “the saving leaven of the human family”.
It is through faith and baptism that a person becomes a member of the family of God. As such, every baptized member of the Church is “entitled to a Christian education,” as stated by Vatican II. “Baptized persons gradually should acquire knowledge of the mystery of salvation and so grow more conscious of the gift of faith they have received” and learn to conduct their lives “in righteousness and in the sanctity of truth”.
Two key factors make the Catholic school different from other schools.
In a Catholic school, “God, His Truth and His Life are integrated into each and every aspect of the life of the school”. The entire scholastic curriculum is permeated with the Spirit of Christ Jesus. In practice this means “to teach doctrine …. within the experience of the Christian community, and to prepare individuals for effective Christian witness and service to others”; in short, “to foster the student’s growth in personal holiness”.
Teachers and other staff work towards this goal also by their personal witness: “The more the teacher bears witness to Christ, the more likely young people will accept the challenge of building the new earth” which Jesus inaugurated.
St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians uses a metaphor in describing the Christian: “You are part of a building that has the apostles and prophets for its foundations, and Christ Jesus himself for its main cornerstone. As every structure is aligned on him, all grow into one holy temple in the Lord; and you too, in him, are being built into a house where God lives, in the Spirit”. (Ephesians 2:20-22). This ideal applies also to the Catholic school and all who teach and learn therein.
Motivated by a Christ-centred vision of humanity and human history, the school promotes the formation of the whole person. Such formation embraces not only intellectual but also physical, emotional, moral and spiritual dimensions of human growth. Intellect, emotions, creative ability and cultural heritage also have a place in the life of the school. Human knowledge and skills are recognized as precious in themselves, but find their deepest meaning in God’s plan for creation.
This broad education prepares students for the challenges of life as adults in our multi-racial, multi-cultural province. Graduates of Catholic schools enter this fast changing society well informed and well rooted in their Christian faith, ready to talk and work with their fellow Christians and people of other beliefs. Committed to ecumenism and interfaith concerns, they can respond to our common call to seek and promote truth and wisdom in service to the human family.
Several elements make up the Christian formation in the Catholic school – a formation in which the entire Church community is called to share
Christian faith is not lived in isolation but is born and develops in communities under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The student lives first of all in the domestic community of the home, then the parish community, school community, and the wider communities of district, province, nation and world.
Parents have the first responsibility for the education and Christian formation of their children. The school exists to complement this responsibility, not to replace it. Parents have a “duty to send their children to Catholic schools wherever this is possible, to give Catholic schools all the support in their power, and to cooperate with them in their work for the good of their children”. At the same time, parents have a right to the Church’s help with their responsibilities as teachers of their children.
Pastors too are expected to promote and contribute to Catholic education for the young, who are the hope of the Church, especially those who are poor, those deprived of the benefits of family life, and those weak in faith. The parish community supports and strengthens fathers and mothers in their duties as educators. By participating in parish activities, the growing child experiences what it means to belong to a larger faith community.
The school itself is called to be a faith community and precisely as such teaches Christian habits of mind, heart and work. It hands on Catholic values to the young both by word and by example. Thus, the whole Church has a family interest in Catholic schools, since all the baptized are responsible for seeing that the specific mission and distinctive characteristics of Catholic schools are maintained and improved. Laity, clergy and religious are responsible, each according to their proper roles for the Catholic school in all of its facets and for the decisions made in its regard.
Jesus taught that each “…tree is known by its own fruit". (Luke 6:44). A Catholic school worthy of the name practices what it teaches. It is essential that teachers be witnesses of God’s love. “In imitation of Christ, the only Teacher, they reveal the Christian message not only by word but also by every gesture of their behaviour. This is what makes the difference between a school whose education is permeated by the Christian spirit and one in which religion is only regarded as an academic subject like any other”. Teachers have a personal vocation in the Church; they are not simply exercising a profession.
What is learned in a Catholic school is “not for the purpose of gaining power but as an aid to a fuller understanding of, and communion with man, events and things”. It is to be seen “as a call to serve and to be responsible for others." Thus teachers will challenge the students by their own witness to imitate Christ and in turn to witness to the rest of society. “The more completely an educator can give concrete witness to the model of the ideal person that is being presented to the students, the more this ideal will be believed and imitated.
Catholic education seeks to form Christian adults who will discern “the presence or the purpose of God” in the signs of our times, as declared in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. A mature adult faith “throws a new light on all things…thus guiding the mind towards solutions that are fully human” - as, for example, in the continuing struggles on many fronts for social justice, a peaceful social order and the integrity of creation.
Religious instruction is another constitutive element in the Catholic schools’ process of education. The aim of religious instruction “is not simply one of intellectual assent to religious truths but also of a total commitment of one’s whole being to the Person of Christ”. This commitment to Christ is intrinsically linked to the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church, which the school encourages as its students discover and express their Christian identity and mission.
The entire school program is meant to be Christ-centred. The Catholic school “strives to relate all human culture eventually to the news of salvation, so that the life of faith will illumine the knowledge which students gradually gain of the world, of life, and of humankind,” as the Declaration on Christian Education states.
We, the Catholic bishops of British Columbia, recognize Catholic education as central to the Church’s mission in our time. While we realize that no school fully measures up to the ideals we have outlined – just as the Church never fully realizes her ideal – nonetheless, it is of great value to set forth clear principles which can guide our efforts. We therefore urge that this philosophy shape and direct the Catholic schools of our province, confident in the wholehearted response of all concerned – teachers, school trustees or council members, parents, pastors and others.
We believe that such Catholic education is an appropriate response to the compelling call of Pope John Paul II: “The whole Church, pastors and lay faithful alike, standing on the threshold of the Third Millennium, ought to feel more strongly the Church’s responsibility to obey the command of Christ, ‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation’ (Mk. 16:15), and take up anew the missionary endeavour. A great venture, both challenging and wonderful, is entrusted to the Church - that of a re-evangelization, which is so much needed by the present world".
Written by The Catholic Bishops of British Columbia in 2005