WelCom August 2019:
Bishop Charles Drennan, Bishop of Palmerston North
Schools generate passionate discussion. Every student and parent, every community, and every society has a vested interest in education.
The Church is the largest single provider of schooling in the world. The country with the most children in Catholic schools isn’t Brazil or Poland or France. It’s India. And the runner up is the Democratic Republic of Congo.
There are 9.5 million students in Catholic schools in India, the majority of them Hindu, Muslim or Sikh. No preference card dramas there. And 5.5 million students are in Catholic schools in conflict‒ridden DR Congo.
These statistics remind us, before all else, that a school is Catholic because it is a Christian-inspired initiative of service. Schooling is therefore something the Church can offer a society, offer families, as a service flowing out of our faith, and irrespective of their faith. In Congo the government struggles in its duty to provide schooling, so the Church has stepped in across the country. In India, though schools abound, the quality varies hugely and so there the Church has thousands of schools striving to keep a high standard. The Indian Catholic community has never thought of its schools as being for ‘us’ only.
Here in New Zealand the purpose or kaupapa of our schools is different. We have a fine network of state schools where standards are high, so it is not a social service we offer through our schools. It is good then for us occasionally to ponder, if the Catholic school network were to close what would be lost? In other words, what exactly is it that we hope to achieve? What is our foundation and direction?
Our schools were integrated into the state system so that parents could exercise their right to opt for a religious education for their children (Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 26.3). That means our schools’ defining characteristic is nurturing growth in faith, which for we Christians happens not in isolation but in communities.
“Our schools’ defining characteristic is nurturing growth in faith, which for we Christians happens not in isolation but in communities.”
So, in a society where individualism is strong, it is good to remind ourselves that a Catholic school in Aotearoa cannot define itself without reference to the parish of which it is an integral part and the parish similarly would be incomplete if it imagines itself without all its school families. The faith community is one; levels of participation are graduated but not disconnected.
“In the Diocese of Palmerston North…we are aiming for an integrated and cohesive model focused on pastoral outcomes that bring strength to schools and parishes together.”
Here in the Diocese of Palmerston North we have tried to mirror the unity of our faith communities by evolving our work patterns and goals to ensure that diocesan staff work as a united team to help grow our communities of faith. We are aiming for an integrated and cohesive model focused on pastoral outcomes that bring strength to schools and parishes together. We hope the accompanying photo captures something of our approach.