St. Benedict's Preparatory, in Newark, NJ, uses the following line as a motto for its community:
Whatever hurts my brother or sister hurts me.
It is ingrained in the hearts and minds of students. It is emblazoned on walls. It is a rallying cry, a moral compass and a constant reminder that we are in the image and likeness of a Triune God; therefore, we are made for each other.
Prior to last spring, however, the line lacked two words: "or sister." Up until the Spring of 2020, St. Benedict's Prep functioned as an all-boys' high school. Whereas it did admit girls into its lower school division a few years ago, its high school comprised only boys.
However, the pandemic affected the enrollment of an nearby all-girls' school, Benedictine Academy, so severely that it was forced to close at the end of the 2019-20 school year. Benedictine Academy students approached Fr. Edwin Leahy, the headmaster at St. Benedict's Prep, advocating for a chance to maintain their high school formation in a Benedictine environment.
Ultimately, and without a solid plan forward for the start of the 2020-21 school year about either the integration of girls or precautions due to the pandemic, Fr. Edwin and the St. Benedict's Prep community welcomed girls into its high school division for the first time:
What this will look like? I have no idea right now, That’s the fun of it. You can go into a battle with a battle plan — but no battle plan ever works out according to the plan that you set. You have to adjust and move and change things as you go. We’re going to try our best to provide this opportunity. (https://www.roi-nj.com/2020/05/14/education/st-benedicts-prep-in-newark-to-admit-girls-starting-in-fall/)
This is not a statement against single sex education. Likewise, I am not necessarily promoting a co-ed approach. Both have merit; both also present challenges.
Instead, this is a statement highlighting our interconnectedness with every other person.
Educating our students so that they come to believe and understand this is one of the many goals of a Catholic education. In a 2017 document written by the Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating to Fraternal Humanism: Building a "civilization of love" 50 years after Populorum progressio, educating to fraternal humanism is described in this way:
'Humanizing education' means putting the person at the centre of education, in a framework of relationships that make up a living community, which is interdependent and bound to a common destiny. (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2017, #8)
This approach necessitates an embrace of both/and. We BOTH put the person in the center of education as an individual, AND immerse her/him in a web of relationships. We BOTH promote the development of an individual's vocation AND we posit that within the context of community. In order to humanize education we need to "make it a process in which each person can develop his or her own deep-rooted attitudes and vocation, and thus contribute to his or her vocation within the community" (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2017, #8).
This both/and method means that we BOTH hold fast to the tenants of our Catholic faith AND promote a culture of dialogue through the following grammar: build bridges, find common ground, ensure freedom, equality, peace, fairness, respect, and democracy. We allow an "encounter between differences with the primary objective of building a better world" (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2017, #15).
Catholic schools BOTH build up the Kingdom of God in heaven AND establish it here on earth. We BOTH embrace development as a path toward peace AND recognize that humans are not redeemed by science but rather by love. We globalize hope through the synthesis of faith with both culture and life. "It is up to education, then, to offer this hope to the peoples of the world, as a message conveyed by reason and active life" (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2017, #17).
Catholic schools are BOTH for AND with, extending and erasing margins by allowing "every citizen to feel actively involved in building fraternal humanism" (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2017, #20). Catholic schools BOTH look both forward AND backwards. We assess the quality of our work on the "sustainability with respect to the needs of future generations" (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2017, #22). With a vision for the future, we also have firm roots in our history, tradition and past. We are not perfect; neither were our ancestors. Yet - AND - we stand on the shoulders of giants.
Finally, we recognize that we are BOTH stronger as individuals AND as a community when we work tougher in cooperation networks at every level. "(C)ommunion and mission are profoundly connected with each other, they interpenetrate and mutually imply each other, to the point that communion represents both the source and the fruit of mission: communion gives rise to mission and mission is accomplished in communion” (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2007, #11).
(BOTH) Communion gives rise to mission AND mission is accomplished in communion.
We are fraternal, meaning together in the womb.
Whatever hurts my brother or sister hurts me.
We are better together.
I am not.