CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 June 2019

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Insights into fighting for Catholic education


HONG KONG (SE): The message coming out of an October 2 to 4 meeting of Catholic educators in Washington DC in the United States of America (US) says that Catholic schools are not just places offering quality education or even simply faith-based education, but a place where students can encounter God.

While the US Church is facing its own set of difficulties in its efforts to continue to provide Catholic education across the nation, the insights of delegates to the conference have relevance to Catholic educators in all parts of the world.

The diocese of Hong Kong is currently fighting for the right to continue to inspire not only a faith-based education in its approximately 300 schools in the territory, but also develop an atmosphere of love and care on its campuses where students can encounter God.

The comment from the US conference that it is not simply adequate for a Catholic school to offer quality in its academic input or just to add religion classes onto the curriculum, takes on an urgent meaning in this context.

The bishop stressed that the mission of Catholic education goes well beyond simply the teaching of information about the faith, saying that there has to be something uniquely fundamental to distinguish Catholic schools from other education institutes.

The former president of the Catholic University in Washington, Bishop David O’Connell, said that schools must proclaim the good news, adding that this has been the message for all Christian education since Jesus told his disciples to go out and teach all nations.

“Mission, or Catholic identity in Catholic schools, is not an add-on,” he told the conference. “It is something that is fundamental to their very existence and sets them apart from other schools.”

He added that there is a need to transmit faith in an unambiguous manner and this is not a process limited to religion classes, but something that needs to take place throughout the whole curriculum, in the playground, in the staff room, at faculty meetings and in all dealings with parents.

The bishop explained that the teaching of religion should not be confined to specific class times, but the spirit of the Catholic faith should be part of the way in which all subjects are taught, as mathematics, history, economics, social studies and, in fact, the whole curriculum should be taught from the perspective a Catholic world view.

The bishop of Trenton in New Jersey explained this places a big responsibility upon the staff and administrators of schools, and also plays a vital role in the criteria used when hiring staff for Catholic schools.

“The challenge is to find teachers who believe in the mission,” the bishop stressed, as it is the staff of a school that sets the tone, not simply providing a good curriculum to be followed, which is not adequate to meet these needs.

While he added that closing a school should always be an absolutely last resort, he went on to say that the diocese has a big responsibility in offering support to its education system and promoting cooperation among all schools, so that better resourced ones can offer support to those that may be struggling.

CNS reported that other speakers stressed the need for establishing a strong link between elementary and secondary education. The current president of The Catholic University of America, John Garvey, said that because elementary and secondary schools share the same mission and face the same problems of creeping secularisation, there needs to be a kinship in the enterprise.

Father Donald Harrington, the president of St. John’s University, said that he sees a need for a mentor system among schools, which can provide teacher training and offer leadership programmes on a relationship level, not only at the initiative of the education offices in various dioceses.

“Catholic colleges need to share their resources with younger counterparts,” the Vincentian priest said. “This is not something to be done out of charity, but from a belief that it is important to the future of Catholic education.”


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