Perhaps one of my favorite quotes regarding the mission of Catholic education is from Fr. Ron Nuzzi, "Catholic schools do not have missions; the mission has schools."
While Fr. Nuzzi's words are both poignant and poetic, the Congregation for Catholic Education articulated the essence of this message about the mission of Catholic education in 1977 in a document titled, The Catholic School:
To carry out her saving mission, the Church uses, above all, the means which Jesus Christ has given her...She establishes her own schools because she considers them as a privileged means of promoting the formation of the whole (person), since the school is a centre in which a specific concept of the world, of (humanity), and of history is developed and conveyed. (#8)
The Church, according to the Congregation for Catholic Education, views her schools as instruments of evangelization. Catholic schools, in the eyes of the Church, serve as tools for salvation. "The Catholic school," the Congregation writes, "forms part of the saving mission of the Church, especially for education in the faith" (#9).
Responding to the call that Jesus issued to the first apostles, and following the mission Christ give to them - and all of us who would follow as His disciples - right before the Ascension, Catholic schools strive to bring all people to fullness of life in Jesus Christ. Catholic schools, as stated above, are privileged environments where this type of formation can occur. Not only can they impart instruction in the faith, they can do so in an environment where faith, culture, and life are synthesized in a synergistic way (The Catholic School, #37). Faith elevates and perfects reason and reason gives wings to faith.
Last Sunday, the Gospel reading retold the call of Andrew and Simon Peter, and James and John. In both cases, these sets of brothers jump out of their boats, leave everything behind and start fishing for people. Last Monday, on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, we listened to the story of Paul getting knocked off of his horse, both literally and figuratively, blinded by the light of Christ, only to regain his sight as He began to see Christ as the Son of God. The Gospel reading for Monday jumped from Jesus's first words to His apostles to His last ones, as He sent them out on mission,
Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. (Mark 16:15-18)
The word "apostle" in Greek means "person sent" and applies specifically to the original group of twelve followers of Christ before His death, and eleven afterward. Paul also receives the title apostle after his encounter with Christ and subsequent conversion. But, in apostolic succession, the term also applies to those down through the centuries who perform a "unique and invaluable work for the Church". It is "(i)n this way the Catholic school performs 'an authentic apostolate'" (The Catholic School, #63).
Catholic school teachers, responding to the call of Christ and accepting His mission to save souls, form an apostolate in the Church.
Catholic educators take on the mantle of apostle and are sent out, like the first apostles, to fish for people.
Teachers, staff and leaders within Catholic schools, being sent on mission, drive out demons by authentically witnessing to and instructing others in the faith. They also drive out demons with every warm greeting, patient and humble response, and every other effort they make to connect with students, families and each other.
Catholic educators speak new languages every time they speak words of love, forgiveness, mercy, acceptance, and redemption in a world growing ever more forgetful of these ideals and others.
Catholic school workers pick up serpents with their hands as they form students as disciples of Christ, walking alongside students and families and guiding them through moments of darkness and despair.
Catholic school faculties and staff drink deadly things and escape unharmed every time they lovingly and mercifully allow an angry family member to advocate for their child before responding with love, compassion, understanding and a clear path forward.
Teachers, staff members, and administrators lay hands on the sick with each lesson, each lunch duty, each afternoon carline, each study hall, each paper graded, each forgotten lunch brought to the cafeteria, each lunch period missed to meet with a family member, each sleepless night worrying about a student who struggles, each socially distant and face-masked air-five and disguised smile.
Catholic school teachers, thank you for accepting the call and for being sent on mission by Christ.
You, along with Christ, are changing the world.
Happy Catholic Schools Week 2021.