Catholic Mission in Schools: Being a People of Hope

Article excerpt

The Rev. Charles Bolser, president of St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, is embarking on his fourth decade as an educator in Catholic schools. He recently spoke with Daily Herald staff writer Diana Wallace about the changing world of Catholic education, and how his students are learning its messages.

Q: Catholic schools are getting a growing number of non-Catholic students. Has that affected how you approach religion?

A: Thirteen percent of our students are not Catholic. We're not trying to make converts. If they leave here better grounded in their own faith, we've succeeded. Diversity is a wonderful thing to strive for. Everybody benefits.

Q: What do you think attracts non-Catholics to Catholic schools?

A: They look at the environment and see a small, caring atmosphere. Here, the parents' viewpoints are heard. The values that they want taught they know are taught here. They can't get it where they're paying the taxes to get it. A Catholic perception is that parents are the first and most important teacher. Our task is to assist in their role, not to usurp it.

Q: The stereotype of Catholic education being strict and authoritarian seems to be loosening. Why the change?

A: The demarcation point is Vatican II. That was the foundation of a fundamental turning point in how the church lives in the world, operates in the world, exists in the world.

In the old days, it was a kind of blind-obedience approach: These are the rules, and as long as you memorize and obey them, that's enough. Post-Vatican II, we began to move away from the strict legalistic and authoritarian approach to try to deal with humanity in the perspective of going back to the Gospels and their message, going back to our roots. Sometimes things get muddied in legalism.

Q: How is this philosophy reflected in what you're trying to accomplish with young people?

A: We want them to understand themselves as people. They're not perfect, but neither are they devils. We want them to see that we're all connected, that we all share a human spirit. And, if that's true, what does that mean? How does that call us to act?

A Catholic school is kind of a schizophrenic act, because a Catholic school is a structure and structures tend to want conformity. But there's also a personal need to be different, a need for young people to be able to accept themselves for who they are.

Q: That's different than what their parents are used to, isn't it? …