I see in my former diocese an effort from the bishop and a planning study that intends to strengthen Catholic school identity. It looks like a good start, but I see some glaring omissions. Bishop Finn asks teachers to intensify their commitment, and he asks parents to bring their families to church on Sundays. But four commitments seem to be missing:
To what does the bishop commit in terms of supporting Catholic education?
For what are the clergy, especially pastors, responsible in the support of Catholic schools?
Given the importance of Catholic high schools, what commitments should they make to reinforce the parish as the basic faith community, and encourage students to get involved as active parishioners in their own neighborhoods?
What commitments do school administrations make to their teachers, their students, and to the parishes that support Catholic schools?
It’s an easy thing to harp on teachers and lament an alleged lack of religious awareness of spirituality. As a long-time colleague of Catholic school teachers, I have to say I don’t see them any less prepared and able that their administrators or pastors. The best of the teachers I’ve known have surpassed the religious influence of pastors and principals, not to mention bishops. And faculty members who have seemed less well-equipped to pass on the faith have certainly not avoided responsibility. Teachers are trained to teach, and forming children and teens in faith takes a skill set not quite congruent to what an education degree will give. The real question is what opportunities do principals give their teachers to improve themselves–not just in catechesis, but in ministry?
Priests should be serving their schools not only as an administrative level above the principal, but as authentic chaplains. Or they should be hiring or designating lay staff to serve in that role if they themselves lack the gifts. The expectation that the spiritual needs of children can be met by parents, teachers, and administration alone, without any training or effort to serve young people in ministry is an ignorant one. If the bishops are satisfied with a good academic and sport-oriented school that mimics the secular culture and hope that the religion stuff sinks in because we’re earnest about it, then by all means, we should continue as we have been running parish schools.
What I would like to see from a bishop is a personal commitment to the schools in is diocese, a pledge to push for better compensation and training for teachers, and a willingness to work with priests across the diocese to bring substance to that pledge.
What I would like to see from pastors is a commit to personal ministry at the school, a pledge to make Sunday Mass the source and summit of parish activity for all who celebrate, a willingness to assign more parish resources to the celebration of Mass and for the compensation of faculty, and a personal effort to improve homilies.
I think Bishop Finn’s plans and those of his planning group are a good start. But the teamwork’s missing? If parents and teachers are willing to get on board with this plan as is, more power to the parish schools of northwest Missouri. But lay people are far more likely to be inspired, to make further commitments and sacrifices, if they see their leaders: bishop, priests, and school administrations are willing to get out in front and set an example. Giving parents and teachers marching orders without emphasizing or restating the responsibilities of the leaders: that seems like a recipe for a grade of incomplete.
Anybody on the ground in Kansas City with any insights from the parent or teacher view?