What Church Documents Say about Catholic Education

By Huber, John B. | Momentum, April/May 2009 | Go to article overview

What Church Documents Say about Catholic Education


Huber, John B., Momentum


Church documents, from papal encyclicals, the Sacred Congregation of Catholic Education at the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, provide a treasury of inspiration for the Catholic educator

Catholic education in the United States has gone through a great transformation in the past decades. The current American Catholic school system was built on the foundation of the hard work and selfless sacrifice of countless thousands of religious, a majority of them female, who opened, administered and taught in parish elementary schools and both parish and private secondary schools in response to the Council of Baltimore's challenge that every Catholic child have access to a Catholic parochial school (Fanning, 1907, Decree 13).

Over time, an immense Catholic school system was built and maintained by dedicated religious. Communities of sisters, brothers and priests each brought their specific charism of Christian education to the schools in which they ministered. Today, however, the vast majority of Catholic educators are lay people, completely reversing the situation that had existed from the Council of Baltimore in the late 1880s to the mid-1960s, where the majority of Catholic educators were vowed religious (Jones, 2003, p. 36).

Unlike their predecessors who belonged to religious orders and congregations, many Catholic lay administrators and educators have neither a religious background based on theological studies nor formation in the charism of a particular religious community. Church documents -from papal encyclicals, the Sacred Congregation of Catholic Education at the Vatican (SCCE) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) - provide a treasury of inspiration for the Catholic educator of today, for both administrators and faculty alike. Although the documents address the situations of various eras and the cultural influences therein, they contain several consistent themes that can help to shape the ministry of Catholic education for the future.

The documents listed here are among those released in the past 100 years by the universal church and the church in the United States.

Papal Documents

Pope Pius XI: (1929) Divini Illius Magistri: "On Christian Education"

Pope Paul VI: (1965): Gravissimum Educationis: "Declaration on Christian Education"

Sacred Congregation of Catholic Education (SCCE)

(1977) "The Catholic School"

(1982) "Lay Catholics in Schools: Witness to Faith"

(1988) "The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School"

(1997) "The Catholic School on the Verge of the Third Millennium"

(2002) "Consecrated Persons and Their Mission in Schools"

(2007) "Educating Together in Catholic Schools. A Shared Mission between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful"

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)

(1972) "To Teach as Jesus Did"

(2000) "In Support of Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools"

(2005) "Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium"

These church documents have recounted faithfully and connected upon the progress and challenges of their time, including:

* the danger of political ideologies and how they are addressed by authentic Catholic education;

* the focus of the parents as primary educators of their children;

* the need for Catholic education to be accessible to all socioeconomic classes of families;

* the consistent need for dialogue between faith and culture;

* the inclusion of non-Catholics of good will in Catholic schools;

* the inherent dignity of the human person, and the fact that Catholic education must educate the whole person: mind, body and spirit;

* the search for truth in all academic areas leads to a better understanding of the wonder of God's creation;

* authentic Catholic education as an education in virtue;

* Catholic education's respect for freedom of conscience;

* the right of Catholic families to educate their children in Catholic schools and to receive financial support from the government to fund their educational choice;

* the recognition of the Catholic school as a worshipping. …

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