Nurturing a Heart for the New Evangelization: A National Study of Catholic Elementary School Principals in the U.S./Nutriendo Un Corazon Para la Nueva Evangelizacion: Un Estudio Nacional Sobre Los Directores De Escuelas Primarias Catolicas En Estados Unidos/Encourager le Developpement D'un Coeur De la Nouvelle Evangelisation: Une Etude Nationale Sur Les Directeurs D'ecoles Primaires Catholiques Aux Etats-Unis

By Spesia, David D. | Journal of Catholic Education, October 2016 | Go to article overview

Nurturing a Heart for the New Evangelization: A National Study of Catholic Elementary School Principals in the U.S./Nutriendo Un Corazon Para la Nueva Evangelizacion: Un Estudio Nacional Sobre Los Directores De Escuelas Primarias Catolicas En Estados Unidos/Encourager le Developpement D'un Coeur De la Nouvelle Evangelisation: Une Etude Nationale Sur Les Directeurs D'ecoles Primaires Catholiques Aux Etats-Unis


Spesia, David D., Journal of Catholic Education


"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever"

(Heb. 13:8, NAB)

The Gospel remains the same good news in the globalized world of the 21st century as it was in the Roman Empire of the first century, yet today's rapidly shifting cultural context poses new challenges for the Church's proclamation of the Gospel. Thus Catholic schools, so intimately linked to the Church's evangelizing mission in the U.S., find themselves at the forefront of an ongoing call for a New Evangelization. This call poses new opportunities for Catholic educational leaders as a whole, but especially for the Church's elementary school principals. After all, the call for a New Evangelization is not just another professional requirement for already overworked school principals. Rather, it is the proclamation that the Gospel must become incarnate anew, here and now. To serve the mission of the Church today, Catholic schools must reclaim the deepest roots of their mission and identity--namely, the forming of "intentional disciples" of Jesus Christ (Weddell, 2012), the raising up of "dynamic Catholics" (Kelly, 2013), and the sending forth of "missionary disciples" (Pope Francis (2013). Indeed, Catholic schools in the U.S. must be places "where the New Evangelization can reach out to parents and children" (USCCB, 2013).

The New Evangelization and Catholic School Principals

The New Evangelization traces its roots to Jesus' great commission, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations ... teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20), although its "newness" first began to emerge in the second half of the last century. Indeed, the Second Vatican Council (1965) reaffirmed not only that Christ has sent the Church to the ends of the earth as a unique sign or instrument of salvation, but also that "the present-day conditions of the world add greater urgency to this work of the Church" (Lumen gentium, para. 1). Ensuing popes would further expand upon this vision of the Church's task within the context of an increasingly post-modern world: Bl. Paul VI reminded that "the Church exists in order to evangelize"; St. John Paul II called for an evangelization which would be new in "ardor, methods and expression"; Pope Benedict XVI insisted that the Church must "re-propose" the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith, due to the radical secularization of these times (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB], 2012, pp. 10-11).

More recently, Pope Francis (2013) has continued to refine this vision of the New Evangelization. His apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium challenges the entire Church to share the "joy of the Gospel," and its implications for Catholic schools are clear:

I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. 'Mere administration' can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be 'permanently in a state of mission.' (para. 25)

Within this context, Catholic schools in the United States continue to be a privileged locus of the Church's teaching and evangelizing efforts. Pope Francis (2013) writes that, "Catholic schools, which always strive to join their work of education with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel, are a most valuable resource for the evangelization of culture, even in those countries and cities where hostile situations challenge us to greater creativity in our search for suitable methods" (para. 134).

In a Catholic school, the work of reaching various audiences and evangelizing the culture itself increasingly falls to the principal. The University of Notre Dame's landmark study of Catholic elementary school principals demonstrated that Catholic educational leaders are motivated by "their sense of leadership as ministry, of schools as centers of evangelization," even as they identify that "frustration with a never-ending list of urgent action items for each day points to their awareness of other important and essential tasks that they leave unaddressed" (Nuzzi, Holter, & Frabutt, 2013, pp. …

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Nurturing a Heart for the New Evangelization: A National Study of Catholic Elementary School Principals in the U.S./Nutriendo Un Corazon Para la Nueva Evangelizacion: Un Estudio Nacional Sobre Los Directores De Escuelas Primarias Catolicas En Estados Unidos/Encourager le Developpement D'un Coeur De la Nouvelle Evangelisation: Une Etude Nationale Sur Les Directeurs D'ecoles Primaires Catholiques Aux Etats-Unis
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