Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Universality of Catholic Education

 PIE Spiritual Reflection: Church Documents from ACEatND on Vimeo.

Just over 175 years ago, Fr. Edward Sorin, at the age of 28, looked at 524 snow-covered acres after walking 250 miles and declared that he would turn a log cabin into “one of the most powerful means of doing good in this country.” Thanks to the perspective of time, history and tradition, we can see the effects of the incredible vision and determination that the founder of Our Lady’s University embodied. Because of Fr. Sorin’s zeal and determination we, the Fighting Irish, can boldly proclaim today that the University of Notre Dame truly is a force for good in our world.

One of my favorite stories about Fr. Sorin showcases his visionary spirit and heroic determination. The University was founded in 1842, and by 1865 there was a white dome on the Main Building with a plaster statue of Mary on top. Then, in April 1879, fire broke out and within six hours, only a few outer walls of the Main Building remained. The dome had collapsed and the entire structure was in ruins. This fire destroyed everything that carried the educational endeavor at Notre Dame.

At the time of the fire, Father Sorin was in Canada on his way to Europe. Upon hearing of this tragedy, he returned to campus and surveyed the damage.

People expected him to bend under the sight of his life’s work in ruins. Instead, he grew more determined.

Fr. Sorin boldly proclaimed, “If it were ALL gone, I should not give up. The fire was my fault. I came here as a young man and founded a university which I named after the Mother of God. Now she had to burn it to the ground to show me that I dreamed too small a dream. Tomorrow we will begin again and build it bigger, and when it is built, we will put a gold dome on top with a golden statue of the Mother of God so that everyone who comes this way will know to whom we owe whatever great future this place has.”

In this moment of tragedy, loss, heartache, discouragement, Fr. Sorin notes that it was Our Mother Mary’s way of telling him that he had dreamed too small a dream. With renewed commitment and galvanized resolve, Fr. Sorin and a fleet of volunteers got to work rebuilding the University of Notre Dame, reopening five months later for the start of fall classes.

I love this story because to me, it speaks of the transformative power of God-sized dreams coupled with heroic determination. When we allow the Holy Spirit to both inspire and guide our actions, we, too, can become a powerful force for good in our world.

I’m sure that at times, your work with inclusive education can feel as insurmountable as rebuilding something from scratch. I’m sure that sometimes your progress with a student or instituting a program or policy in your school to promote inclusive education can be interrupted or stifled, causing your efforts to spiral backwards.

\You have a God-sized dream of offering outstanding inclusive Catholic education to as many students and possible, and the work, at times, requires heroic effort.

The Catholic Church understands this. Our Catholic schools should be places open to all. A document from the Second Vatican Council entitled, Gravissimum Educationis, also known as the Declaration on Christian Education, declared, “All men of every race, condition and age, since they enjoy the dignity of a human being, have an inalienable right to an education that is in keeping with their ultimate goal” (#1). Another Church document called Lay Catholics in Schools, affirms this right: “Every person,” the document argues, “has a right to an integral education, an education which responds to all of the needs of the human person” (#3). This integral, complete education, according to 1977’s The Catholic School, “necessarily includes a religious dimension” (#19). In 1972, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a document on Catholic education entitled, To Teach As Jesus Did. Written almost 50 years ago, the Catholic Church explicitly recognized the right of students with exceptionalities to receive religious education that is adapted to their specific needs. But, almost in the same breath, this document acknowledges that meeting the needs of students with exceptionalities “challenges the ingenuity and commitment of the Catholic community” (#99). In short, the bishops recognized the importance of fighting for inclusive education in our Catholic schools and that this fight will require heroic determination.

The bishops said that we must meet the needs of all students within our Catholic schools. Admittedly, though, doing so will be hard.

But, we can do hard things.

This challenge is not one from which we should shrink. This challenge is not one that should cause us to bend, waiver, or crumble. We are made for greatness, built for holiness, and destined for sainthood. In the spirit of Fr. Sorin, we must boldly dream dreams within inclusive education that are worthy of Our Mother and set out to build systems and programs within our Catholic schools that meet the needs of all children. We must couple our God-sized dreams about inclusive education with heroic determination so that we can offer Catholic education to all children.

This is our call as Catholic educators. This is our mission. This is our opportunity to transform the world and this opportunity must be, according to the 1982 document Lay Catholics in Schools, “confronted with a healthy optimism, and with the forceful courage that Christian hope and a sharing in the mystery of the Cross demand of all believers” (#28).

So, today let us be confronted with a healthy optimism.

Let us act with the forceful courage that Christian hope and the mystery of the Cross demands of us as believers.

Let us, with God-sized dreams and Holy Spirit infused determination, galvanize our resolve to boldly provide high quality, unabashedly Catholic education to all children.

Let us be a force for good.

Our Golden Dome is waiting.

Let us get to work.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Welcome to Central Command

Welcome to Central Command.

As a former Catholic school leader, my office served as my space to retreat, refocus, recharge and recreate. It was my space to invite others in for a meeting or shut the door and grind out some intense work. It was a place for privacy, a place for planning, a place for practicing, a place for preparing.

It was a place, most importantly, for prayer.

As a school leader, your office will take on many of these same characteristics and maybe a few more. Everything from interrogation space, to war room, to a place to cry or laugh or shout or breathe deeply, your office will become an incredibly personal and important space in your role as a Catholic school leader.

Hopefully you won’t spend much time in your office. Spending time in classrooms, at lunch and recess, or at carline or after school events, hopefully your office will be a place that isn’t often utilized.

But, whatever you lack in quantity of time you will undoubtedly make up for in quality. You’ll log many hours before anyone arrives and long after the rest of your school community has already gone home. It will be the place where you’ll do final preparations before a big meeting or presentation. It’s where courageous conversations will occur. It’s where some of your biggest, toughest, most important decisions will be made.

In a sense, your office will be the birthplace of your leadership. Everything from ideas to policies to programs to your own unique style will be forged here, so that you can go out into your school to transform it and our world.

As Catholic school leaders, the work before us is heroic. You must be both visionary and managerial. You must be both an administrator and a motivator. You must be an employer and a shepherd. You must balance professionalism with pastoral care. You must be versed at instruction and inspiration. You will need to know everything that’s going on in your school while still being able to delegate and empower others to share in your mission. Your school will require that you are all of these things and so much more.

But, most importantly, your role as a Catholic school leader will demand that you are a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.

For, as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in To Teach As Jesus Did in 1972:
Thus one crucial measure of the success or failure of the educational ministry is how well it enables men to hear the message of hope contained in the Gospel, to base their love and service of God upon this message, to achieve a vital personal relationship with Christ, and to share the Gospel’s realistic view of the human condition which recognizes the fact of evil and personal sin while affirming hope. (#8)
As a Catholic school leader you must ensure that students are both smarter and better once they leave our schools so that they can take a dynamic faith life out into the world and with competence, compassion and conviction transform it.

To Teach As Jesus Did ends with the following rallying cry:

The Christian community has every reason for hope in confronting the challenge of educational ministry today. To all our efforts we join prayer for God’s help, and for the intercession of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. We face problems; so did those who came before us, and so will those who follow. But as Christians we are confident of ultimate success, trusting not in ourselves, but in Jesus Christ, who is at once the inspiration, the content, the goal of Christian education: ‘the way, the truth and the life.’

The work of Catholic education is heroic. It has divine origins, earthly ramifications, and eternal consequences, and “The Christian community has every reason for hope in confronting the challenge of educational ministry today” because of transformational Catholic school leaders like you.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Keep Your Eyes Open, Part II

As a parent, my wife and I try to give our three children roots and wings. We want them to understand the importance of family, tradition and history while simultaneously giving them the skills, tools, and courage to go out into the world to change it for the better.

We want them to feel the safety of our home while also encouraging them to take risks to become the people that God created them to be.

We hope to pass on to them the gift of faith, that they may come to know, love and serve Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and be so grounded in it, so rooted in their faith that they would be willing and able to follow Jesus on whatever journey He leads them to.

Roots and wings.

In so many ways, this is so much easier said than done. Parenting brings with it millions of decisions that must be made without forethought but potentially with much consequence. Think of the myriad of decisions teachers make throughout the course of a class. Decisions on everything from classroom management to formative assessment to spiritual formation must be made by teachers. Throughout the course of a class period and/or school day there are hundreds if not thousands of decisions made by teachers. Teachers, though, get to say goodbye to their students. A class period is finite. A school day comes to an end.

There is no bell, however, in parenting.

Parents constantly oscillate between micromanagement and giving their kids complete freedom. This balancing act is tricky, much like the balance that I would assume is required of tightrope walkers. There is constant attention and adjustment. There is constant focus and flexibility.

There really should be an instructional manual.

Luckily for us as Catholic educators, the Church in Her infinite wisdom has given us the model of the Holy Family and centuries of Church teaching and tradition on the important role that must be played by parents.

Consider the Holy Family. Bl. Basil Moreau, founder of the C.S.C. spoke of the unity enjoyed between and among Mary, Joseph and Jesus:

Bl. Moreau writes:
Our association is also a visible imitation of the Holy Family, wherein Jesus, Mary and Joseph, notwithstanding their difference in dignity, were one at heart by their unity of thought and uniformity of conduct (Moreau, p. 384).
Blessed Moreau saw the beauty of the Holy Family - being unified in thought and uniform in conduct - and actually used it as a model for the Congregation of the Holy Cross - consecrating the priests to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the brothers to the Heart of St. Joseph and the sisters to the Heart of Mary pierced with the sword of sorrow. The Blessed Virgin, as we know at the University of Notre Dame, plays a special role in helping to inspire, lead, guide and protect the order. St. Joseph is also a prominent figure within the C.S.C. This lake is named after St. Joseph and the order observes the feast of St. Joseph in a special way.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church proclaims the importance of parents in the lives of their children:
Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery - the preconditions of all true freedom...Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. (#2223)
Church documents on Catholic education also speak of the importance of parents.

In Gravissimum Educationis, the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education writes:
Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators. (11)
The documents encourage parents to zealously advocate for Catholic education. Furthermore, Church documents recognize the power that can be wielded by Catholic educators when there is a strong and united partnership between a student’s home and his/her school.

Parents and teachers being on the same page is a recipe for student success. Do a quick thought experiment: your most successful students probably have parents who are appropriately involved. Helicopter or absentee parents typically foster a student who struggles. Parents who can navigate the tightrope of roots and wings, of being involved but allowing autonomy, of shepherding and guiding while also empowering most often have children who find success.

This isn’t an attack on parents, and it certainly isn’t meant to criticize those parents who face extreme hardships and difficulties. Even in the best of circumstances, being a parent, like being a teacher, is hard. Couple this with the very real spiritual attack on families and it’s easy to see that parents could use a bit more help, support, and love. In 2014 Pope Francis said this about the battle being waged on the family:

Families are the domestic Church, where Jesus grows; he grows in the love of spouses, he grows in the lives of children. That is why the enemy so often attacks the family. The devil does not want the family; he tries to destroy it, to make sure that there is no love there. Married couples are sinners, like us all, but they want to go forward in faith, in fruitfulness, in their children and their children’s faith. May the Lord bless families and strengthen them in this time of crisis when the devil is seeking to destroy them.

As Catholic educators and leaders, we are charged with helping to form and support parents in addition to their students.

Finally, leadership guru Simon Sinek, in a talk about organizational culture, challenges leaders to stop saying that their companies – or in our cases Catholic schools – are like families. Sinek says, “They aren’t like families, they are families. And we need to start acting like it.”

Let’s stop referring to our Catholic schools as being like families – Catholic schools are families and it’s time we start acting like it.

We need to strive for unity in thought and conduct in our schools and help to support parents in recognizing and seizing their role as the primary educators of their children. We need to give parents and families the skills and tools to be domestic churches, the natural training ground “where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule.”

We need to give the families that come to our Catholic schools the roots of knowing that they are truly members of our school family - and that we will love them and support them and fight with and for them. And we need to give the families at our schools the wings to be the parents that God created them to be - united in thought and conduct to each other and to the Heart of Jesus.

Roots and wings.

*Did you notice that the title says, "Part II"? For Part I of "Keep Your Eyes Open" visit this link: https://icscatholicedu.blogspot.com/2012/08/inspiration-keep-your-eyes-open.html 

-Moreau, B. (2014). Basil Moreau Essential Writings: An introduction to the life and thought of the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Garwych, A., & Grove, K. (Eds.). Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press.