Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bishop Finn - New Practices to Strengthen Catholic School Identity

The following column by Kansas City - St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn appears in this week's edition of The Catholic Key:

Parents and Teachers Make Strong Commitments for Catholic Schools

By Most Reverend Robert W. Finn

Catholic schools share the mission of the Church. They exist for the education and formation of children as complete persons: sound in mind, body, and soul. Since their beginning, our schools have existed to carry out this work of holistic education: excellent academics, healthy human values, and Catholic faith. So much of what we do best is with these goals in mind.

In looking at the Catholic Identity of our schools in our Comprehensive School Planning Study, we have been able to affirm quite a lot that has and continues to serve us well. In every school I visit, there are visible reminders of our Catholic purpose. Our school children attend Mass, celebrate the Sacraments and Catholic devotions, and are actively engaged in service to others. The spirit of faith is very much alive in many of our activities.

The report that will be coming out of the School Study will affirm and strengthen these vital elements of our “Catholicity,” our Catholic nature. This doesn’t mean that non-Catholic students and families don’t fit within our schools. Indeed, many families choose our schools precisely because they value this environment as positive and healthy for their sons and daughters. Most remain committed to their own experience of faith. But they often come to acknowledge that Catholic values are essentially authentic human values.

There are two important practices that we plan to add in the Diocese’s schools thanks to our Comprehensive School Plan. In some ways they are so obvious that perhaps they may seem unnecessary. They have to do with the expression of commitment parents and teachers make together to assure the right formation of our children.

One practice is the teachers’ Catholic/Christian Commitment of Faith. For many years a similar component (Christian Commitment Statement) has been a part of every teacher contract. In the future this statement will be expanded as a more formal statement of the teachers’ dedication to the work of education and formation. It would be particularly meaningful if this commitment could be expressed and “celebrated” each year in a parish or school Mass.

The Teachers’ Commitment Statement begins, “As a teacher in a Catholic School, I am directly involved in the formation of youth in the name of the Catholic Church. In carrying out these solemn responsibilities as a teacher, I will conduct myself in a manner that does not contradict her doctrinal and moral teachings.”

Through the statement the teacher goes on to express a readiness to practice their faith, and live in a way which is appropriate to one entrusted with the care and formation of our precious young people.

While we ask so much of our teachers, we know that it is also important that the parents of our school children make their commitment to fully live up to their role as “first teachers” of their children. In this way both teachers and parents will determine to work together for the authentic Catholic/Christian formation of our young people.

A Parents’ Statement is being formulated now, similar to one used already in several of our schools. It is a Covenant Agreement whereby parents pledge that they will attend church services every week and see to it that their children attend each week. For Catholics, this means participating in Holy Mass every Sunday (weekend) and Holyday. For non-Catholics, this means attending church services of their choice every week.

I am convinced that this new resolve will help secure – ever more deeply - the Catholic identity of our schools. It will strengthen us all in the example we give each other, and assist our children to grow into the maturity and responsibility of their religious faith.