Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Our Schools-Our Hope: Reflections on Catholic Identity from the 2011 Catholic Higher Education Collaborative Conference

Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Our Schools-Our Hope: Reflections on Catholic Identity from the 2011 Catholic Higher Education Collaborative Conference

Article excerpt

These proceedings include selected presentations on Catholic identity by six participants of the 2011 Catholic Higher Education Collaborative (CHEC) Conference on Catholic Identity at The Catholic University of America (CUA). The conference, jointly sponsored by CUA and St. John's University, is the fourth in a series of five national conferences sponsored by the collaborative. Each of these presentations looks at Catholic identity from a different perspective, including collaborative partnerships between K-12 schools and higher education; school policies that promote Catholic identity; curriculum; research into Catholic social teaching; and leadership. Contributors include Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., 14th president of CUA and current Bishop of Trenton, New Jersey; Reverend Donald J. Harrington, C.M., president of St. John's University; Sr. Barbara L. Monsegur, CFMM, principal of Lourdes Catholic High School, Arizona; Karen Vogtner, principal of St. John the Evangelist School, Georgia; Thomas W. Burnford, secretary for education, Archdiocese of Washington; and, Mary Jane Krebbs, associate dean for graduate studies in the School of Education, St. John's University.

Catholic Schools, Our Hope--Keynote Address

Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.

Trenton, New Jersey

The two critical elements in the life of any organization--whether that organization is related to social services, health care delivery, or education--are identity and mission. In other words, "who you are" and "what you do." The health and integrity of any organization can be determined by demonstrating that its mission flows from its identity as St. Matthew's Gospel indicates, "by their fruits you shall know them" (Matthew 7:i6). In understanding identity at its deepest level, you not only get a sense of "who" but you also get a sense of motivation--the "why" of the organization. In seeing that identity--the "who" and "why" of an organization--you should see a "mission" whereby you begin also to see and grasp the "what" and "how" of an organization, the manner of its acting appropriate to its identity.

When an organization acts in a way that is contrary to its identity--when its mission and motive and manner--are not mutual and clear, the organization begins to break down and unravel. When, however, identity and mission are in balance, there is a much stronger argument for an organization's success. There will be challenges and tensions within even the most successful organization but with good, effective leadership and careful, thoughtful ongoing evaluation by that leadership in collaboration with those who constitute that organization, challenges can be addressed and tensions minimized if not resolved altogether.

I have personally seen that happen in the field of Catholic education, especially Catholic higher education. This morning, I would like to focus our attention on the ideas of (1) identity; (2) mission; and (3) leadership.

We are here today because we believe deeply in Catholic education. In fact, we have made and, for most of us, we will continue to make Catholic education our life's work. In my own case, I have spent my entire ministry as a Catholic priest involved in some form of Catholic education: at the high school, seminary, and university levels. I have been privileged to serve as a teacher and an administrator and I use the word "privileged" carefully and deliberately. As a teacher, the job is defined as imparting knowledge and inspiring learning in the next generation, handing on truth and access to truth--what could be better or more important, more privileged than that? As an administrator, the job is defined as serving, guiding, and enabling those who teach and inspire, and who hand on or give access to truth. This is also a pretty great thing. Of course, we all know that there is much, much more involved in both aspects of Catholic education. In the end, however, it is the administrator of our Catholic schools who must lead the charge! …

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