Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Why Catholic Education? (Part 3)


As I close, I'd like to issue a challenge. A key component to teaching is to have students self-assess and reflect upon their learning at the end of a unit of study. As such, I'll leave you with two questions. Together we will look into an answer to the first. The second will be yours for reflection. 

1. What is a good Catholic? 

2. Are you a good Catholic? 

Many times this evening I've used the phrase "good Catholic" to describe the end product of Catholic education but I've yet to define it. I propose that as an answer to the first question, we look no further than the successor of Peter, Pope Francis I. 

We all know Pope Francis's story: he is the first Pope from the New World - Latin America. First Jesuit. First Pope to take the name Francis. He moved out of the papal residence and into a humble apartment. He walks and takes public transportation. He cooks for himself. 

From his first act as Pope to everything between then and now he has infused our Church with a new energy, a revitalization, a refocus, a Resurrection of sorts as if he had been planning what he would do when he became Pope all of his life. Time Magazine's Person of the Year - he did more with 9 months than I've done with all 418 of mine combined - has given all of us a new perspective, a new hope, a new way of looking at ourselves, our world and most importantly our Church.

He has given us all a Catholic education. He has taught us what it means to be a good Catholic.

1.2 billion Catholics. The largest ongoing historical institution in the world. He has taught us how to treat others. He has taught us how to be proud of our Catholic faith. He has taught us how to be in the world but not of the world. He has challenged capitalism and forced us to see the poor and marginalized with new and fresh eyes - as people. He has taught us how to remain true to both Church teaching and the Gospel message of love. He embraces a battlefield Church and prefers to be out among the sick, the lonely, the desolate, the sinners as opposed to remaining clean, comfortable and holy up in Church steeples, Papal residences and ivory towers. "I prefer a Church which is bruised," the Pope admits, "hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security." The authenticity of his humility and poverty inspire.

He practices what he preaches and is including himself in the reform he is urging us to embrace- "Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy." He isn't just challenging the Church or the world, he is a part of this realignment. 

Why Catholic education? Because what the world needs is more good Catholics. People who love more. People who do more to help others. People who see through the lies of our world straight into the truth of the Gospel. We need good Catholics who are more compassionate, patient, humble, forgiving, tolerant. Much like our new Pope, we need not be worried about labels like conservative or liberal. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, was a revolutionary. Let us live in accordance with His teachings without fear and with much joy! Let us be faithful. Let us be authentic. Imagine Churches filled with good Catholics. Imagine our worship. Imagine the music. Imagine if the people in the pews felt an intense burning desire to participate with full, conscious and active participation throughout Mass and in life! Imagine the vocations that could arise and in turn, the homilies and vocations that would result from a Church on fire with God's love! Imagine a Church whose members desired above all else to make God known, loved and served!

Imagine a world filled with good Catholics.

Can you see it? Can you envision it? Can you hear what it sounds like? Taste it? Smell it? Can you feel it?

Together we can make this vision a reality. Together we are making this vision a reality every day, with every student, because of each and every one of our Catholic schools.

Why Catholic education? It can do so much more than raise test scores, improve behavior and offer a faith-based education. Catholic education can create good Catholics...and a few good Catholics can change the world. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Why Catholic Education? (Part 2)

This is part 2 of 3 from my Catholic Foundation speech: 

To answer the question "why Catholic schools" from a global perspective I turn to our Holy Father, Pope Francis I. In his apostolic exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium" or Joy of the Gospel, our new Pope cites the following problems facing our Church today:

1. A decline of the Family.

2. A decline in Vocations.

3. A decline of Society in general.

We need Catholic schools because of the deterioration of the family. Pope Francis claims that the family, the fundamental cell of society, is undergoing a crisis. Families, the place where, Francis writes, "we learn to live with others", where "parents pass on the faith to their children" are in crisis. "Growing number of parents," according to Pope Francis, "do not bring their children for baptism or teach them how to pray." Marriage, in the words of our Pope, "tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will."

We all know the divorce rate in this country. Families in our world are broken, confused, hurting, lonely, and in some cases even violent or abusive. Our Catholic schools, often fondly referred to as families or homes, must be places of safety, stability, structure and love for our students. Students must truly come to see, despite the disfunction they may witness at home, a different approach to treating others because of their time spent in our Catholic schools. 

The Congregation for Catholic Education wrote in its 1988 document, The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (#25):

From the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic school, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith, and having its own unique environment permeated with the Gospel spirit of love and freedom.
If our Catholic schools can offer to students a true picture of familial love and a deeper understanding of the role of the family within the Catholic Church, if we can inspire students to enter into the Sacrament of Marriage with greater fidelity, maturity and reliance upon Jesus, if we can inspire better Catholics, we can take back the family.

Our Catholic schools must create good Catholics; in doing so, stronger families will result. 

We need Catholic schools to spark a rebirth in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Pope Francis acknowledges this decrease stating that it is often due "to a lack of contagious apostolic fervour in communities which results in a cooling of enthusiasm and attractiveness." Furthermore, Francis believes that because of this, "many people feel disillusioned and no longer identify with the Catholic tradition."

But, there is hope. Pope Francis asserts:
Wherever there is life, fervour and a desire to bring Christ to others, genuine vocations will arise...the fraternal life and fervour of the community can awaken in the young a desire to consecrate themselves completely to God and to the preaching of the Gospel.
If our Catholic schools can simultaneously catechize and evangelize, if we can bring a passion for Christ to our students and create a culture that students come to know that God's desire for them is more magnificent than their heart's greatest desire, if we can inspire better Catholics, we can inspire more vocations to the religious life.

Our Catholic schools must create good Catholics; in doing so, more vocations will result.

Third, from a global perspective, we need Catholic schools because of the problems facing society today. Our Pope cites the following "deficiencies which need to be healed by the Gospel: machismo, alcoholism, domestic violence, low Mass attendance, fatalistic or superstitious notions which lead to sorcery and the like." Francis adds to this list of difficulties: the influence of the communications media, a relativistic subjectivism, unbridled consumerism which feeds the market and a lack of pastoral care among the poor." We might want to add to the list school violence, intolerance, and political polarization.

"In response," our Pope tells us, "we need to provide an education which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values...The Church," he continues, "has acted as a mediator in finding solutions to problems affecting peace, social harmony, the land, the defense of life, human and civil rights, and so forth." Pope Francis even includes Catholic schools as a part of the solution, "And how much good has been done by Catholic schools and universities around the world!" 

What the world needs is more good Catholics; we can create more good Catholics with Catholic Schools. 

  • It is when the Catholic school adds its weight, consciously and overtly, to the liberating power of grace, that the Catholic school becomes the Christian leaven in the world (#84, The Catholic School, the Sacred Congregation of Catholic education).
Why Catholic schools? Because Catholic schools can change the world.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Why Catholic Education? (Part 1)

Yesterday, I was privileged and blessed to have had the opportunity to speak at the Diocese of St. Petersburg's Catholic Foundation Celebration dinner, an event to raise funds for tuition assistance for students at our Catholic Schools.

This is an excerpt of my speech (Part 1 of 3):

Why Catholic education? It seems like such a simple question, and one that I'm sure most of us in this room would answer with affirmations such as: faith-based education, stronger academics, better discipline, and maybe a service orientation. Catholic families need to have a faith based alternative to public and other private forms of education.

My responses, when Bishop Lynch first asked me the question, resembled those as well. But, as I continued to probe and search for an answer to the question why have I committed myself to the cause of Catholic education, I couldn't settle for these visible and apparent advantages to Catholic schools. So, as an answer to the question "Why Catholic education?" I'd like to give two responses, one from a personal perspective and the other from a global one. Then, to close, I want to move us into a new way of thinking about our Catholic faith as it pertains to Catholic education and its future.

From a personal perspective, my commitment to Catholic education stems from both an evangelical and catechetical component.

During my sophomore year of college at the University of Notre Dame, my faith had naturally swelled into a desire to use my gifts and talents to make the world a better place. I vividly remember sitting in a moral theology class that winter and being struck by a moment of clarity. My sophomore year of college had few such moments, so the poignancy of this one continues to resonate with me. I sat in class and wondered why I was there. Not in moral theology class but in college and specifically at Notre Dame. With the conviction that only 20 year olds can muster, I thought, "I'm going to drop out of school and go volunteer somewhere. People are hurting, suffering, in need of so many and various forms of assistance, why am I wasting time in college?" From a moral standpoint, I thought, how was it fair that I sat in such academic and spiritual luxury while there was so much good work to be done? Wasn't it time for me to do something?

Then, as only a 20 year old's mind can do, I jumped back to reality and to class. Fr. Mark Poorman, the class's professor, was one of the rectors in my dorm and someone with whom I had developed a close relationship. He was my confessor and quasi spiritual advisor. And despite that momentary daydream, he was a darn good teacher.

It was at that moment that I realized what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to teach. My mind raced to another one of the great teachers that I had been blessed to have - Fr. Michael Brunovsky, a Benedictine monk - and how much he had inspired me as a teacher throughout high school. I could do that, I thought. I could make a difference, I could change the world by teaching. From an evangelical standpoint, it was at that point that I became motivated to live out my faith in the form of and after the model of Jesus, the Teacher.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that He has commanded us. (Mt: 28: 19)

Fast forward 7 years and I'm back at Notre Dame in the Alliance for Catholic Education's Leadership Program. At that point I had worked, zealously, in Catholic schools for five years and had been led to discern a possible shift in my educational role from teacher to administrator. Feeling somewhat called, but not quite convicted I wanted to leave the classroom, I entered the program figuring that the graduate degree would at least diversify my resume. I entered somewhat lukewarmly. I was dedicated to Catholic education and had no intention of leaving for the public or private sector. But, I can't say that I was committed. I was the chicken in a bacon and eggs breakfast. Involved, not committed like the pig.

Almost with the same type of clarity I had received 7 years earlier, I vividly remember sitting in Fr. Ron Nuzzi's class on the first day of the program and being simultaneously inspired and frightened. Fr. Nuzzi, a man who possesses an intimidating physical, spiritual and intellectual presence, demanded that we learn the words to ACE's mission statement. "How can you be a part of the organization, huh, and not have a clear sense of the organization's mission?" While reviewing the ACE Leadership student handbook, Fr. Nuzzi made his expectation for attendance at Mass clear, "If you're looking for where it says that you should attend Mass with the group, you won't find it in the Handbook. It doesn't need to be there, huh. It's in the Bible." Needless to say, no one missed Mass. Ever.

Figuring that the program would focus on administrative areas like finance, school law, human resources and the like, which it did, I was unprepared for what turned out to be, for me, the more impactful piece - the heavy focus on Catholicism. I found myself desiring to be more Catholic and having this desire fulfilled through the ACE Leadership Program. I learned how to locate the readings within the lectionary. I know what a Sacramentary is and can locate Mass parts within it. I can pray the divine office. I know that the podium in a church isn't called a pulpit. The terms ciborium and purificator used to be foreign to me. I read Church documents - papal encyclicals, Canon Law, the Catechism. For the first time in my life, despite 10 years of Catholic education leading up to that point, 6 of which that were within higher education, my faith was galvanized through this catechesis. I'm still working my way through the Catechist modules here in the diocese, but my time spent in the ACE Leadership Program motivated me to be more Catholic.

Already compelled to pass on the gift of faith that I had received from my parents, family, high school and college, I became convicted that God was calling me to be a Catholic school principal to ensure that students at my school would be both evangelized and catechized. Fill students with passion for the faith and give them the strength that comes from understanding the reason for their passion. Preach and teach. Create good Catholics - Catholics both on fire for and in love with Jesus.

Why Catholic education? Our world needs good Catholics; my evangelical and catechetical work within Catholic schools can help to make this happen.