My children know very well my predisposition towards Catholic schools: after all, my husband and I provided each of them with thirteen years of Catholic schooling and they have observed me in various roles in Catholic education for the entirety of their lives. I assume they would expect me to expect them to send any future grandchildren of mine to Catholic schools, but I don’t assume they know all my thinking about why.
So, here are just three reasons why I would like to see my hypothetical grandchildren attend Catholic schools.
Reason 1: I’d like my grandchildren to be educated within the particular search for meaning that is intrinsic to a Catholic school.
Catholic schools operate within a religious view of the world. They deliberately build their programs, timetables, architecture and environments in a way that recognises the mystery of “God” in our lives. This is a choice. Not everyone chooses to see life through this lens.
I would like my grandchildren to experience an education that has space for the mystery of the divine and the saving sense of Providence in its language, symbols and rituals.
I would like my grandchildren to see the natural world as creation and to view their lives and talents as gifted to them by a God who loves them as the most loving of parents.
In establishing schools, the Church expects of them that they offer respect for the individual dignity and uniqueness of students as children of God; that they will educate young people with a balanced focus on cognitive, affective, social, professional, ethical and spiritual aspects (that is, the whole child); that they will educate searchers for truth, with a predisposition to collaboration, dialogue and an openness of mind and heart.
I would like my grandchildren to be educated, in their totality, towards a hunger for truth throughout their lives – despite the risks this might entail.1
Reason 2: I’d like my grandchildren to be educated towards the excellence that is mandated of a Catholic school.
Catholic schools do all that they do within the ambience of faith in the person of Jesus Christ. This does not mean everyone in the Catholic school believes in Jesus, or has a close relationship with him, but that the essence of the school as school is founded on a particular way of looking at the world: a Gospel way, a Jesus way.
I would like my grandchildren to grow in their knowledge of their Christian heritage because it is a valuable part of human culture, but even more, because I would like them to experience the joy I have experienced in my own life in encountering the person of Jesus: as revealed in the Gospels and as revealed in the people in my life. I would like my grandchildren to be educated to aspire to excellence, that is goodness, an excellence of character, of idealism, of hope for our society, of a commitment to respect every individual that is the foundation of social justice. And I would like my grandchildren to be inspired by their education to go and live good lives that change their world for the better. It does not matter whether the world they influence towards goodness is their small domestic world or the larger social context.
I would like my children’s children to be schooled in a way that encourages them to use their gifts wisely, responsibly and generously. This is because, even before they exist, I want them to become the best people they could possibly become. This is the excellence that can be nurtured in a Catholic school.
Catholic schools, according to the Church’s official department for education in Rome, are called to provide the opportunity to understand the present time and imagine the future of society and mankind.*
I would like my grandchildren to be part of that, to be guided to understand their complex times and to help imagine their society’s future.
Reason 3: I’d like my grandchildren to experience the quality of community and relationships that characterises Catholic schools.
The Catholic schools I know – and I have known hundreds well – place high priority on pastoral care and the building of relationships toward community. It is the school leaders, parish priests, teachers, support staff, parent groups and the supporting staff in Catholic education offices who work together to bring this care to the children (and fellow staff) in schools. While some schools will do this better or worse than others, this is unquestionably a hallmark of Australian Catholic schools.
The Catholic Church expects and challenges her schools to approach teaching and learning as two elements in a relationship that is nourished by mutual esteem, trust, respect and friendliness. The persons of teacher and learner are as significant as the subject being studied and the learning mind.*
I would like my grandchildren to experience such care; I would like them to experience such respect for their individual needs and quirkiness (they will surely have some); I would like them to experience such an atmosphere of community in their schooling. I would like them to experience this for their own good. I would also like them to experience it as a model of how they, too, as adults, can help build community, regard and respect for everyone.
Government and other faith-based schools also demonstrate some of these characteristics: all educators are called to a humanising and moral endeavour for the development of each child and the development of a better society. Catholic education brings all these elements together and articulates them explicitly. And this reflects my faith and my life-efforts to live a good life.
Anne Benjamin is Chair of the Diocesan Catholic Schools Council. She is an Honorary Professor at Australian Catholic University and an Honorary Fellow of University of Western Sydney. Anne has worked in Catholic education for many years and was formerly Executive Director of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Parramatta. Anne grew up in the Hunter Valley and completed her schooling at St Joseph’s, East Maitland, St Xavier’s and St Catherine’s, Singleton. She and her husband have three young adult children.
1 This and subsequent references* are common themes in Church teachings on education. In this instance, I have taken them from Educating Today and Tomorrow, Congregation for Catholic Education, 2014.