For two-thirds of Catholic families in Queensland, the school their children attend is the only face of the church, according to a Queensland study from 2002.
And the executive director of schools for the Parramatta diocese in New South Wales, Anne Benjamin, told the New Zealand Catholic Education Convention 2006 ‘Radiating Hope Challenging Our Times’ last month she understands the situation is similar for Catholic families in New Zealand. ‘Few families of Catholic students in our schools are regular members of a parish.’
She said the report went on to discuss the ‘high level of satisfaction with the school as both an ecclesial and education community.
It was also significant that respondents gave no indication of rejecting Catholicity as an expression of the teachings of Christ despite being critical of some particular traditions of the church.
‘This is consistent with my experience in western Sydney, where principals report that the enrolment of a child into a Catholic school can lead to a conversation with young parents about faith and some kind of reaching out towards church.
Young families of the 21st century in our countries are desperate for spirituality and meaning, but wary of formal religion; they want the kingdom, but not the church.
‘However – and this is a key challenge for Catholic schools – these young families need their tentative inclinations towards (or back towards) religious practice to be recognised and sensitively supported. In the words of one of your parish priests:
…many parents who send their children to Catholic schools are begging to be more invited to the Catholic Church….Our policy is to open doors, the best we can,….Unfortunately we are not very good at inviting.
Some reluctance towards the church had to do with a response to some of the high-profile abuse cases, but there was also a general distrust of all large organisations.
‘Does this challenge perhaps raise questions that normally we do not permit ourselves to ask? For example, what do we believe is the future of the church? How do we see it exercising its mission 15 years from now? Have we ourselves lost hope in certain aspects of the church, for example, ordained ministry?
‘Do we encourage any of our students to consider priesthood? Would those of us who are parents encourage our sons towards such a vocation?
‘Priesthood is unique in its ministry, and I do see other expressions of vocation alive in the Church today – in young people, youth ministries, welfare ministries, and of course, all of you gathered here under the calling – vocation to teach. How many of you have encouraged the best and brightest of your students to become teachers in a Catholic school?’
Working in Catholic schools offers ‘a privileged perspective for the work of hope’ which is every teacher’s vocation. This means having a religious worldview whereby teachers can do their best and leave the rest to God’s transforming power; having the language to renew and articulate vision, and ritualise it in celebration; and ‘we need to make no apology for offering young people a formation of the whole person in spirit and morality.’
The full text of Anne Benjamin’s speech and others from the convention can be found on www.conference.co.nz/cathed06