Archbishop John Dew made a plea last month to Catholic schools, parishes and families to work together. This is the way the early Christian community, represented in the Acts of the Apostles lived, doing everything in common.
He told a conference of boards of trustees that this first community of Acts (Acts 2:42-47) was a eucharistic community, motivated by hospitality and by praying and learning together.
‘All those things are what our schools are about. They are a summary of parish life and I make the point very strongly and I hope clearly, our parishes and schools and families are to work together. The school and the parish are not separate.
Archbishop Dew said that overall, Education Review Office reports on Catholic schools were ‘laudatory’.
‘Many non-Catholic parents are eager to have their children enrolled in Catholic schools.’
Archbishop Dew talked about the programme for upgrading schools as finances allowed and the new schools established in the archdiocese in the last few years in response to needs – Garin College and St Paul in Richmond, and St Claudine Thevenet in Wainuiomata.
Vision based on Jesus’ teachings
In discussing his vision for Catholic schools, Archbishop Dew said Catholic schools were founded on Jesus Christ, his gospel and his values.
‘Jesus came and preached the reign of God. For Him this reign meant God’s intention for all of us to live in peace and justice, love and freedom, wholeness and fullness of life. He preached that we love God by loving our neighbour as we love ourselves. This reign was the central theme of Jesus life.
‘He lived it with great urgency and made it clear that we are all invited to be participants. He had a special outreach and compassion for the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed.’
Archbishop Dew said his vision of a Catholic school was as a place based on the values Jesus lived by, which showed the schools’ special character.
He listed five values which he believed to be at the heart of the gospel and therefore in the heart of the Catholic school.
1. Freedom (John 11: 38 44)
This was demonstrated in the story of Jesus bringing his friend Lazarus back to life from the tomb, which could be seen as a symbol of the oppression of captivity.
‘A child may be held captive by a sense of failure, by low self-esteem brought about by worry and anxiety, or family problems.’
The Catholic school with Jesus as its heart, sought to offer a new freedom to its pupils through an experience of peace and security.
‘As board of trustees members do you see that you have a role to play in helping students to find the freedom to live fully human lives?’
He recalled Pope John Paul’s ad limina last year in which he said that the distinctiveness of a Catholic school reached beyond catechesis and religious instruction to touch every aspect of education, transmitting that true Christian humanism which springs from the knowledge and love of Christ. Such an education guides the young to appreciate the wonder of human dignity and the supreme value of human life’.
Catholic Schools helped their students to know their own dignity and the dignity of others and to live in freedom, Archbishop Dew said.
2. The values of love and compassion [John 11: 34 35] were at the heart of Jesus’ message.
‘Our schools are about helping our students to learn to care for others to recognise the needs of others and to feel with their hearts. In a world of individualism, production and efficiency, our schools are to be about community, about responsibilities rather than rights, about love and compassion.
3. Reconciliation (Matthew 5:23) was another value desirable in a Catholic school where there was no room for staff/board divisions and parish/school divisions.
The gospel challenge was to work through hurts and try to resolve differences.
Our schools are to nurture the whole person we are all in need of inner healing, freedom from fears, anger and anxieties that oppress and destroy us. Forgiving and receiving forgiveness calls us out of self-centredness to full human living hearts.
4. The fullness of life (John 10:10) as expressed in the gospel: I have come that you may have life … was another value which Archbishop Dew hoped schools would nurture in their pupils.
Catholic Schools are called to educate the whole person spiritually, morally, socially, emotionally, and intellectually.
This may mean taking a counter-cultural stand on some issues that we need to look carefully at the competitive nature of classroom and sports field and ask whether we need to spend more time teaching our children to work together rather than against one another, because ultimately our journey to wholeness is a journey with others not at the expense of others – that we make space for our students, teaching them to reflect – step aside, contemplate, pray and reflect on God’s goodness.’
Easter a sign of hope
5. The final value Archbishop Dew encouraged Catholic schools to inculcate in their students was hope.
‘The Resurrection is THE feast in a Catholic school. The Christian life is always about new beginnings.
‘The Catholic school of its nature should be a place of peace and optimism. The resurrection is seen as a counter sign to the gloom and pessimism, the culture of death which permeates our society.
‘We are an Easter people and alleluia is our song. As Catholics we believe that the world is good, that human beings are good, that children are good, that all creation has been called into existence and is sustained by the goodness of God.
‘This hope helped us to survive the suffering and hardship and to ultimately be transformed by it.
‘This scripture passage [Matthew 28:5-8] calls us to hope because Jesus is alive. We are called to trust in God, to hope in God, to hold fast to God and to embrace life. Our schools are to be hope-filled places where children experience a passionate commitment to life.’
Archbishop Dew said we lived these values, not because the Church said we should, but because they showed the best way to live as human beings. They make sense, give purpose and meaning to human life. It was the task of everyone in a Catholic school to build the reign of God, to keep the treasure, to look for ways to promote gospel values.
To attain this vision he urged BoT members to encourage people to make their careers in Catholic schools, as a ‘vital ministry’ in the 21st century Church.
RE teachers needed to know the religious education curriculum and, particularly at primary level where one teacher taught all subjects, all teachers should regularly participate in professional updating.
He outlined what he saw as the role of the BoT as:
• to understand what special character meant and to ensure prospective staff and teachers understood this also and how it might be implemented;
• to be aware of the distinction between governance (the board) and management (principal and senior staff);
• to ensure that the Catholic community in the board’s catchment area had psychological ownership of the school;
• to ensure that Catholic schools are leaders in implementing changes in educational practice particularly when change enhances the spiritual enrichment of pupils;
• to build on the work and money that proprietors, teachers, trustees and the community have invested in the school;
• to have attainable goals with realistic ways of achieving them;
• and to believe in the validity of Catholic eduation and in the Catholic school as a vital ministry in the Church.
‘Our schools are to be communities which reflect that early Christian community (with) Jesus Christ at their centre. The building of these communities is the task of all of us.’
Copies of Archbishop Dew’s speech are available from Wel-com, PO Box 1937, Wellington 6015; or email