Reflection on Catholic Schools Week 2019

Date: 22 Jan 2019



Catholic Schools Week 2019 will run from Sunday, 27th January to Sunday, 3rd February. The general theme will be “Catholic Schools: Celebrating the Work of Our Local Catholic School”. The particular themes suggested for each day of CSW2019 are these: Day 1. Our Catholic School: Living Tradition; Day 2. Our Catholic School: Welcoming Diversity; Day 3. Our Catholic School: Grandparents Day/Intergenerational; Day 4. Our Catholic School: In the Service of Our Community; Day 5. Our Catholic School: Supporting Faith.  There are resources available to help schools celebrate each of these days with understanding, conviction and, we may hope, enthusiasm (www.catholicschools.ie).

In describing our schools generally, we tend to focus on characteristics – e.g., “Welcoming Diversity” – that are not in any way unique to Catholic schools or that are required by law of all recognised schools or that are more or less moot if not supported by the findings of independent empirical research. CSW affords us an opportunity to reflect year on year on the nature and purpose of our schools and, perhaps more importantly, to find the necessary and appropriate language in which to share our conclusions with the world.

Canon Law defines a Catholic school thus: “A Catholic school is understood as one which a competent ecclesiastical authority or a public ecclesiastical juridic person directs or which ecclesiastical authority recognises as such through a written document (c. 803.1)”. There is actually no corresponding definition of a Catholic school in civil law in the Republic of Ireland but, in the light of various provisions of the Education Act 1998 and, especially, of their interaction, it may be concluded that a Catholic school is a recognised school under Catholic patronage.

There are many Vatican documents dealing with the Catholic school, all of which are freely available at www.vatican.va. Archbishop J.  Michael Miller, CSB, formerly Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, has distilled from these what he calls The Five Marks of the Catholic School:  “1. Inspired by a Supernatural Vision: … Catholic schools have a straightforward goal: to foster the growth of good Catholic human beings who love God and neighbour and thus fulfil their destiny of becoming saints. 2. Founded on a Christian Anthropology: … Christ is not an after-thought or an add-on to Catholic educational philosophy but the centre and fulcrum of the entire enterprise…  3. Animated by Communion and Community: … a dimension rooted both in the social nature of the human person and the reality of the Church a ‘the home and the school of communion’ …  4. Imbued with a Catholic Worldview: Catholicism should permeate not just the class period of catechism or religious education, or the school’s pastoral activities, but the entire curriculum …  5. Sustained by the Witness of Teaching: The careful hiring of men and women who enthusiastically endorse a Catholic ethos is … the primary way to foster a school’s Catholicity …”.

We must mine this rich vein of Catholic thinking and teaching on the ends and means both of Catholic education, in general, and of the Catholic school, in particular, because, now more than ever, we must “be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls [us] to account for the hope that is in [us] (I Pt 3:15)” about our schools. We must develop a specifically Catholic vision of what is specifically Catholic about our Catholic schools and we must find a Catholic language in which to articulate that vision. If we have much to say about our schools as schools, and little about those schools as Catholic, we run the risk of de-Catholicising our schools all on our very own.