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5 Marks of a Catholic School

5 Marks of a Catholic School

By Bob Schell, Principal

In the last edition of Gatherings, we introduced readers to The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools. We then shared with you the vision for preparing our school staff for the formation of our students in their love of Jesus Christ at SMG Catholic School through the Franciscan at Home learning platform. Last, we revisited our 2021-2022 school year theme, Living in Faith

Now we wish to explore five essential marks and the implications they present for SMG Catholic School.

The following section is from Elisabeth Sullivan’s, “The 5 Marks of a Truly Catholic School.”

Drawing from Church documents on education in his 2006 publication, The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools, Archbishop J. Michael Miller, former Secretary of the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, identified five “essential marks” that make a school genuinely Catholic. It is becoming clear that Catholic schools cannot meet these essential marks when they adopt secular curricula and teaching strategies. Schools that are now thriving have become far more intentional about these goals through a return to the Catholic tradition of liberal arts education that weaves together faith and learning:

5 Marks Of A Truly Catholic School

1. Inspired by a supernatural vision

Without a supernatural vision across the curriculum, we cannot explain such things as eternal life, the Communion of Saints, the acts of Divine Providence throughout history, or the possibility of miracles. And, most importantly, we cannot grasp the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Secular education is merely pragmatic; it undermines the mysteries at the heart of faith.

2. Founded on a Christian anthropology

Christians understand that the human person is made in the image and likeness of God, and is destined to be with Him forever. Respect for the dignity of all human life is a principle by which we can assess events in history, literature, science, ethics, and current events. This truth also guides all our relationships. A Catholic school, therefore, should nurture all that is human in the students it serves—the ability to observe, to listen, to attend, to remember, to imagine, to imitate, to integrate, to pray, and to love, among other traits. It should avoid the secular obsession with metrics and data. Standardized testing may have its limited place, but a child’s formation cannot be measured by multiple-choice questions.

3. Animated by communion and community

The Holy See’s Teaching points out that a Catholic school is not an institution, but a community. That community should echo “the warm and intimate atmosphere of family life.” In contrast to the growing isolation of individuals in a competitive, materialist society, a Catholic school strives to make choices that promote “overcoming individualistic self-promotion, solidarity instead of competition, assisting the weak instead of marginalization, responsible participation instead of indifference.” Each and every child is a unique, unrepeatable gift of God, with particular talents and a singular vocation in life. As such, each one should be cherished, regardless of ability.

4. Imbued with a Catholic worldview throughout the curriculum

It is this benchmark which is least understood in Catholic schools, but most transformative when it is grasped. Jesus Christ is the Logos in Whom all things cohere. “In him we live and move and have our being,” St. Luke tell us (Acts 17:28). This mystery is glimpsed in each small truth to be learned, from mathematical patterns in nature to natural law principles in jurisprudence. As children discover connections across different subjects, learning comes alive. They develop habits of mind that point to a larger Truth, so they integrate faith into learning and life. In addition, a Catholic school should enculturate children into the rich 2,000-year heritage of Christianity that is their birthright. No culture can survive without passing on its own story to the next generation.

5. Sustained by Gospel witness

Rich content and engaging lessons alone, however, do not pass on the faith unless they are conveyed by true Christian witnesses. “More than a master who teaches, a Catholic educator is a person who gives testimony by his or her life,” according to Catholic documents on education. Teachers and administrators carry “the primary responsibility for creating a Christian school climate, as individuals and as a community. Indeed, ‘it depends chiefly on them whether the Catholic school achieves its purpose.’” It is the faith and formation of individual teachers that most powerfully transmit faith and learning.

In summary, mission-driven Catholic schools (and homeschools) offer what no other model of education can provide, at any price. They form children from their earliest years in the confidence and joy that come from knowing that they are loved beyond measure by God, who draws them to Himself through the beauty, order, and mystery of the universe He created. Nothing else can compare to this clear foundation for happiness and holiness—which is most fully provided when Catholic schools return to their own proven tradition.

Renewing Catholic Schools

Every principal in the Diocese of Madison received the “Renewing Catholic Schools” book by the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education (ICLE). Our goal this year at SMG is to have a book study as a Building Leadership Team around this text. That Building Leadership Team will begin planning action steps to further our vision for strong academics and faith formation at SMG Catholic School.

The stakes are high today, really high. Our culture is under attack. In our secular world, and more than ever before, our society needs those who embrace the truths of our Church. We need students who understand that God created them in the image and likeness of Him. We need students who believe in the sanctity of life, who see the human dignity of each of God’s children, and who believe in objective truth. We cannot sideline living our faith to only Sundays, and we must go beyond talking about our faith only during Religion class.

Students, especially middle schoolers, have questions. It is important that the people to whom students pose their questions are properly catechized and serious about their faith. As we mentioned in the last Gatherings, our diocese is using Franciscan at Home resources as professional development for our teachers and staff to grow as professionals and as teachers of the Faith.

To quote Thomas W. Carroll, “It’s our obligation to make sure that we create a faithful environment in which a parent can be assured that their child’s Catholic faith will be retained – if not deepened – and definitely not destroyed. In short, we must put the Catholic back in Catholic schools.”

As we continue to explore these resources and learn more about keeping our great Catholic School Catholic, we hope and pray to remain curious and to model a love of learning that we expect of our students.

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