The Challenge for Catholic Schools.

   Two millennia of Christianity have passed and the Church finds herself at the beginning of the third faced with a wonderful challenge. It is one in which Catholic schools are called to share. The Catholic Church in the new millennium is called to renew her communion with Christ her head and spouse, and to bring the knowledge and love of His person and His revelation to all. The Lord’s final words to his apostles are words he addresses to us anew: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And know this that I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matt 28:18-20). Those words present Christ’s challenge for the Church and for the Church’s schools.

  During the Synod of Bishops for Oceania it was stressed how central Catholic schools have been to the evangelising work of the Church in Australia. For almost 180 years they have shared with parish and home the task of catechesis and religious education. There is no question that our schools have been in many respects a great success story. With significant government funding (never entirely sufficient, of course) they continue to enjoy the freedom needed to advance their ecclesial mission of ‘planting, communicating and preserving the faith’ (Instrumentm Laboris, 1998, n.26). They have contributed significantly to the development of a multicultural nation. The new generation of Catholics from migrant families continues to look to Catholic schools for the education of their young, with about 50% of all students in our Sydney schools having at least one parent speaking a language other than English. Enrolments are at record levels with 20% of all students in Australia attending Catholic schools, and this despite declining Mass attendance. The Catholic school system in Australia has reason to feel confident of many aspects of its future.

   Despite successes however, fundamental challenges remain. An immediate practical challenge for Catholic schools is to be imbued with a sense of the Church’s evangelising vision, and to see itself and all aspects of its daily life as  engaged in it. For as we read in The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (Congregation for Catholic Education, 1988), ‘The Catholic school finds its true justification in the mission of the Church;... Through it, the local Church evangelises, educates, and contributes to the formation of a healthy and morally sound lifestyle among its members.’ (No.34). And further on we read in the same document, ‘The mission of the Church is to evangelise, for the interior transformation and the renewal of humanity. For young people, the school is one of the ways for this evangelisation to take place.’ (No.66). The evangelising vision of the school must be integrated into the vision of the diocese, which in turn is developed within the guidelines enunciated by the Bishop, who himself draws his vision from that of the universal Church united in communion with the see of Peter. Our schools must plan with its eye on the Church and with a view to union with her, for as the document quoted above observes, ‘Just as the Church is present in the school, so the school is present in the Church.’(ibid,no.44). All agents of influence in the Catholic school must be helped to view things in this way, especially as one detects in some of the literature a tendency to separate the aims of the Catholic school from the interests and future of the Church (for example, in some comments by Denis McLaughlin in Catholic School: Paradoxes and Challenges, St Pauls, Jan. 2000, eg. p.47-49).

   Having stated this general practical challenge facing each Catholic school of being truly part of the Church’s evangelising action, I would like to suggest a few fundamental objectives which face our schools now. They are challenges our schools have always faced because they relate to the Church’s essential mission to evangelise. The school shares in this mission, having ‘the fundamental duty to evangelise’ (The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millenium no.3, Dec.1997), to bring Christ to the children of our markedly secular culture, and to ensure that such a culture does not vitiate its ecclesial witness.

The challenges ahead of Catholic Schooling:

1. The first challenge which I propose for our schools is a daunting one indeed. It constitutes its very first task, which is the presentation to our students of the living person of Jesus as the one Lord and only Saviour of the world.

   The Church’s claim in respect to the person of Christ, and therefore the claim of her schools, is simple and stupendous. Christ, the Catholic school is called to profess, is the one and only Saviour, the only Redeemer of man, the only way to the Father. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. Uniqueness and primacy belong to Him. All aspects of life and creation that are studied in schooling are, in the mind of the Catholic Christian, to be understood in reference to Him for he is the Lord of lords, the One through whom all things exists, the One in whom resides all authority in heaven and on earth.

  The challenge before the Catholic school is above all to present the person of Christ in all the truth of His unique claims and His saving system. A correct personal knowledge of Him and his claims is to be conveyed, together with a personal communion with Him. ‘Father, ...Eternal life is this, to know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.’ (Jn.17:3). All-important is the personal knowledge of Christ and the full acceptance of who He says He is: ‘But who do you say I am? asked Jesus of his disciples.’ (Matt.16:15). The authentic image of Jesus is to live in the hearts of our students. His doctrine is essentially bound up with His person. In his classic work on the philosophy of religious faith, A Grammar of Assent, Cardinal Newman speaks of the Image or Thought of Christ as the vivifying idea of the Church and of her members (Image Books, 1955, p.359). It was the Thought of Christ which inspired the zeal of Christians and brought to life the bright promise of eternity. This mental vision of Christ, he writes, one and the same in authentic Catholicism, has entered into myriads of men, women, and children of all ranks weaning them from sin, leading to conversion and fellowship, and nerving them against suffering. The true Christian is sovereignly devoted to this invisible Lord living in their hearts, intellectually and imaginatively apprehended.

  As the great German theologian Karl Adam pointed out years ago (The Christ of Faith, Ch.1), other religions that have clearly been founded by an historical figure do not regard their founder as the content of their faith but as the mediator of his doctrine. His image grows indistinct at no disadvantage to the religion. Not so with Christianity. The image of Christ himself must be lustrous and living in the heart of every Christian. ‘Christ in you, your hope of glory’ (Col 1:27) is the message of the Church and her schools. The person of Jesus is the foundation and content of the moral imperatives and dogmas of the faith and their explanation. His person is the centre of the personal history of every one of his disciples. The Christian abides in Christ and He in them in a mutual communion. Without communion with Jesus there is neither apostolate nor participation in God’s Trinitarian life.

  I stress this not only because it constitutes the challenge of evangelisation, but because an explicit focus on communion in faith with the person of Jesus can be obfuscated in discussions on the purpose of the Catholic school. For instance, in a publication on the paradoxes and challenges facing Catholic schools in Australia, the author describes the purpose of the Catholic school as being ‘to proclaim the kingdom through an authentic educational enterprise’ (Denis McLaughlin, The Catholic School: Paradoxes and Challenges, St Pauls, Jan 2000, p.111). And of course it is indeed this, provided the terms are properly understood. But having asserted that the Catholic school is essentially about the kingdom, the author appears to distinguish the kingdom from even ‘an incipient personal relationship with Christ’. Quoting Groome, he would have it that if kingdom values are deliberately honoured and experienced in the Catholic school, then the Catholic school is fulfilling its primary mandate even if there appears to be little evidence among students of growth of an incipient personal relationship with Christ, let alone commitment to the Catholic Church.’ (P.111, italics mine). As a statement this is quite unsatisfactory, for the ‘kingdom’ is nothing other than the kingly rule of God which is supremely present and available in the person of Jesus, and Jesus is encountered in His body the Church. In Christ’s person God reigns, and it is through Him that God’s rule is extended. As the nations become his disciples, so is the kingdom extended. If we wish God’s kingdom to come, we welcome Jesus and we bring Him to others. For this reason we are to make the nations His disciples. It is Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Yes, the person of Christ is the centre and object of the Catholic school, the centre and reference point of all the culture that is dealt with in a comprehensive Catholic education (The Catholic School, Congregation for Cath. Ed. 1977, no.34). He is the one Lord and the only Saviour, and all of life is to be understood and lived out in reference to His person. The  challenge facing our schools is to be fully convinced of this and to use the means of schooling to set forth this truth clearly.

   It is to bring out this unique primacy of Christ in the life of the Christian and in the whole of creation that the Church establishes her schools. For it is evident that, precisely because schools aim to educate the pupil comprehensively, schooling constitutes a privileged instrument whereby the Church may show forth the comprehensive primacy of the person of Christ. But it also constitutes a challenge which is especially contemporary. For in dealing adequately with the various disciplines and aspects of a modern education, there will be numerous competing claims for primacy. There will be the constant temptation to deal with sciences and humanities, with sport and with life in a way that has little reference to God and Christ. The pressures of the Higher School Certificate and its importance for employment and career will tend to marginilise or at least compartmentalise Christ himself. This is surely borne out by surveys and anecdotal evidence.

  Catholic schools in Australia were founded by the Bishops on the assumption that religious and other forms of learning should not be separated from one another in schools. This synthesis between culture and faith is one of ‘the most significant elements of the educational project’ of the Catholic school, as we read in The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millenium (28 Dec., 1997, no.14). Such a project requires a rigorous and imaginative education into the nature of Christ’s person and his place in all of reality. As Marcellin Flynn observes, the formal Religious Education classes are of the highest importance and, at least among the higher grades, they should be educationally challenging and emphasise content and knowledge of the dogmas of the Catholic faith. It also requires that the other disciplines be connected with Christ as the heart of the world. The pluralism of our culture, the study of the religions of man, the autonomy of the various disciplines with their own laws, the goodness - though flawed - of creation, and the abundance of suggestive insights available in literature, all constitute an opportunity to set forth the primacy of Christ. But they can easily become the occasion for watering it down, losing sight of or obscuring it. Modern Catholic schooling amounts to a special challenge and yet an unparalleled opportunity to set forth Christ as the one Redeemer. ‘No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known’ (Jn 1:18), and ‘every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Rom 10:12-13).

 2.   But of course, and this introduces my second but deeply related point, the student must come to understand where this Christ is to be encountered. The Christ to be proclaimed is the Christ of Catholicism. Otherwise it will be an incomplete or distorted Christ, and one’s communion with Him will be truncated. In what ambient is He to be encountered? If we are to speak of the image of Jesus reigning in the heart of the Christian, whence comes the authenticated image of Him, the image which He himself projected and which He wishes to see filling the hearts of his disciples? It comes from our mother the Church. Christ is the Church’s head and bridegroom, and He says to her ‘He who hears you hears me.’ The Christ our Catholic schools must assiduously and carefully bear witness to is not any Christ but the Christ of Catholicism, the Christ of the Catholic Faith, the Christ preached and taught by the Twelve. For the Catholic school must profess belief in the person of Christ on Christ’s own terms.

   Images, opinions, impressions, theories and thoughts about Christ are many in and out of schools. ‘When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ Paul would write that  Christ was a stumbling block to the Jews and a foolishness to the Greeks. Especially since the Enlightenment the images and views of Christ have been many. Islam regards Him as a prophet, of lesser import than Mahomet. All would regard Him at least as a great man. ‘But what about you?’ our Lord continued. ‘Who do you say I am?’ It was Simon Peter who spoke up, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’ (Matt 16:13-16). But we are to be warned: those same words can be uttered by different persons and carry variant meanings. If the true Christ is to be known, loved and served, the full and correct meaning of Simon Peter’s testimony must be known, loved and cherished. This can only be done when in communion with Peter, which is to say when thinking with the mind of the Church. The Church knows out of her own being and out of her living communion with Christ who Christ is. She knows this through herself and out of her living awareness that he is ‘the Lord’.

   Whoever seeks Christ without the Church, regardless of her or in defiance of her, putting his trust solely in private judgment, personal insight or academic criticism, will not find the living Christ. It is the living Church who knows the living Christ and we come to know Him through her. By means of the apostolic succession the living Church is able to say, ‘I myself have seen Jesus and I know that He is the Christ the Son of the Living God. The Lord Jesus solemnly confirmed my testimony. I am the one who knows Him, for I am his spouse and His very body. I am His voice and His oracle.’ Through the local Bishop, successor of the Apostles, she places her testimony in the hands of each Catholic school with the charge to pass it on with the utmost fidelity. What is at stake is the right of each student to come to know and love the true Christ, the Christ of Catholicism, the Christ whom Peter and the Church know and profess. Every Catholic school must be imbued with this faith-filled conviction that Christ is none other than the Christ of the Catholic faith.

   All this is to say that if our students are to come to know Christ and enter into communion with Him as the one Saviour and Lord, the Catholic school must, together with the local and universal Church, bear witness to Jesus in full and joyful communion with Peter’s successor, manifested in a serene acceptance and profession of the teaching of the Church in all its richness. Acceptance of Christ on Christ’s terms involves acceptance of the teaching of His Church. When Simon Peter gave his testimony, Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by any man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’ A reluctance to render obedience to the Church’s teaching authority, a dislike of a Catholicism with dogmas, a preference for a religion based on private judgment alone, a dallying or tinkering with the liberalism in religion which Newman regarded as his life-long foe, all of this betrays the loss of a Catholic mind. The Catholic mind shares in the mind of Christ: ‘Let this mind be in you,’ St Paul writes, ‘which was in Christ Jesus.’ It is a mind whose love for the teaching Church is unshaken by the Church’s human limitations. It stands in contrast with the mind of the world which, lacking the light of faith, sees only what is observable or the fruit of reason alone.

As we read in The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (Congregation for Catholic Education, 1988), ‘The Church, through which the Redemption of Christ is revealed and made operative, is where the Catholic school receives its spirit. It recognises the Holy Father as the centre and the measure of unity in the entire Christian community. Love for and fidelity to the Church is the organising principle and the source of strength of a Catholic school.’ The document continues, ‘Teachers find the light and the courage for authentic Religious education in their unity among themselves and their generous and humble communion with the Holy Father. Concretely, the educational goals of the school ..... are attentive to the Magisterium, and include cooperation with Church authorities.’(no.44).

  Each year (on February 22) we celebrate the feast of the Chair of St Peter. From that Chair comes Peter’s testimony and teaching. The feast brings to mind the mission of teacher and pastor conferred by Christ on Peter, and continued in unbroken succession down to his present successor. We celebrate the unity of the Church and her testimony to Christ, and we, the local Church and our schools, renew our assent to the magisterium of the bishop of Rome in both his ordinary and extraordinary magisterium. In this assent comes the promise of grace and power in the work of evangelisation.

3.   To this point I have proposed that the challenge of Catholic schools is none other than to pass on the Catholic faith whole and entire with its focus on Christ, and to integrate it with the rest of culture and education. To Him belongs the primacy over all. But what of the work of disposing the pupil for this great truth?

  Marcellin Flynn (1985, p.137) observes that the fully human person is one in whom the religious dimension has been developed along with other dimensions of his personhood. He cites the British scientist, Sir Alister Hardy, who investigated this religious dimension of human persons in his book The Spiritual Nature of Man. Hardy wrote, and I quote:

  ‘It had always seemed to me that man was religious by nature, but that modern man’s craving for a spiritual philosophy had become frustrated, making him restless and uncertain...
  ‘ The main characteristics of man’s religious and spiritual experiences are shown in his feelings for a transcendental reality which frequently manifest themselves in early childhood: a feeling that ‘Something Other’ than the self can actually be sensed: a desire to personalise this presence into a deity and to have a private I-Thou relationship with it, communicating through prayer.’
  Of course we remember that the young Christian has the great advantage of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit, the Gift of God at his baptism. The Holy Spirit is his Teacher and Guide. Nevertheless, Hardy is confirming that we can surely assume that each school pupil is in some sense naturally religious. He has a religious instinct which, together with the help of the Holy Spirit, enables him even naturally to apprehend something of God’s reality and nature. With the sense of God that it provides the young person is led to be open to the revealed religion of the one Saviour, Christ. But where in the mind is this natural religious instinct to be located, opening the young person to God and to Christ? Can we identify the natural foundation of an authentic religious life, and then strive to develop it, knowing that each person has the assistance of the Holy Spirit?

  Well of course there are many tendencies, powers and instincts of the mind and heart which prompt a person to turn to the Unseen. We need simply consider the vast testimony coming from primal religions to be convinced of that, including the traditional religion of the Australian Aborigines. However, in view of the special stress given in our Western culture to each person’s conscience, I would like to discuss one feature of the conscience which has a special significance here.

  John Henry Newman has been called a Father of the Second Vatican Council. Acknowledged by many as the leading Catholic mind of the modern era, some have ranked him with Augustine and Aquinas. He contributed several great ideas, but one of his most notable concerned the religious significance he attributed to the conscience. In A Catholic Dictionary of Theology (Nelson, 1967, vol II, p.103) J.H.Crehan says that ‘Newman may be termed the ‘doctor of conscience’, as others were termed ‘subtle doctor’ or ‘irrefragable doctor’ in the Middle Ages.

  In his sermon on ‘Dispositions for Faith’ (Sermons on Various Occasions, vol.V, p.64) Newman describes conscience thus: ‘Whether a man be born in pagan darkness or in some corruption of revealed religion...he has within his breast a certain commanding dictate, not a mere sentiment, nor a mere opinion or impression, or view of things, but a law, an authoritative voice, bidding him do certain things and avoid others. I do not say that its particular injunctions are always clear, or that they are always consistent with each other; but .... it commands, it praises, it blames, it promises, it threatens, it implies a future, and it witnesses to the unseen. It is more than a man’s own self. The man himself has not power over it, or only with extreme difficulty; he did not make it, he cannot destroy it. He may silence it in particular cases or directions; he may distort its enunciations; but he cannot, or it is quite the exception if he can, he cannot emancipate himself from it.’

   Newman distinguishes two aspects in the experience of conscience: a judgment of the reason and the sense of a command or duty. (Grammar of Assent, Image Books, p.98) In the act of conscience they are inseparable, but distinguishable. It is Newman’s belief that the second aspect, the sense of obligation or duty, is the foundation of a natural sense of God. The voice of conscience conveys the impression of authoritative guidance, of a law. In the sense of moral obligation, he says, one has the impression of One who commands and to whom worship is due. Newman is not referring here to the capacity of the mind to judge what is right, to form views as to the ethics of particular courses of action, to know what is the ethical thing to do. This is indeed a most important function of conscience and in Newman’s view it is the principle of ethics. But this is not what Newman is referring to when he speaks of the natural foundation of religion. It is not the source of that religious instinct which, he claims, should lead one ultimately to embrace Catholicism. Rather, Newman is referring to that feature of the conscience which senses that duty, whatever be the particular duty, obliges me. It strongly senses that I am under obligation - or have been under obligation - to do whatever is right. This sense of being under obligation, this sense of duty, apprehends a law or command coming from beyond myself. Connected with this sense of personal duty is the awareness, after the deed, of being approved or of being blamed, especially of being blamed. Sadly, it is easily ignored, evaded, or explained away as being a mere subjective feeling with no further significance.

  It is not hard to understand what Newman is referring to. We all recognise that a teacher or a pupil could be good at ethical analysis and at judging what are any person’s religious obligations (important as that capacity of the mind most assuredly is). Yet in his or her own personal life he may not feel personally obligated in a whole range of vitally important moral and religious matters. Newman is saying such a person is unlikely to be instinctively religious.

   It is this sense of personal duty inherent in conscience which Newman regards as the source of the religious sense, the sense of the divine. This sense of personal obligation, and of approval or condemnation after the deed, presents the mind and heart with the vague and incipient impression of a Someone beyond oneself commanding and judging. It is the sense of a Lawgiver and Judge. In the feeling of conscience (in this sense) there is the echo of another Voice, vague yet imperative and constraining, like no other dictate in the whole of our experience.

   That is to say, according to Newman the sense of personal duty is the natural foundation and principle of religion. This is not to say that a sense of personal obligation will always be religious in character, but the foundation for it will be there. In one who is baptised there is also the wonderful action of the Holy Spirit who dwells especially in the action of the conscience. I suggest that the cultivation of a deep sense of moral responsibility is one of the great religious challenges before our schools and an important means of preparing the pupil for the acceptance of Christ and of God. Conscience as the sense of duty (and not just as the critical faculty of making moral judgments) is, according to Newman, instinctively religious. Indeed, one of Newman’s great theses is that its final issue, logically speaking, is the intellectual and heartfelt embrace of Catholicism with its dogmatic authority.

  Prior to the birth of Christ, Sophocles wrote his play Antigone. In the play, for political reasons Creon the ruler of Thebes forbids anyone to bury the body of any man who was slain fighting against the city. Antigone, the sister of such a man, disobeys and buries her brother as reverence for the dead demands. Her conscience imposed on her this obligation. And what did she say to the ruler? She says, ‘Nor did I think that your decrees had so much force that a mortal could override the unwritten and unchanging statutes of heaven. For their authority is not of today nor yesterday, but from all time.’ She sensed that the dictates of her conscience echoed the statutes of heaven. Even pagans have a sense of a law from above written in their hearts. However confused and erroneous might be their notion of what this law commanded, that they were under obligation from above and that their conscience echoed this, did not escape them.

   But there is more. Newman insists that, considering that man is in fact sinful,  the lively conscience (considered as a sense of personal obligation) will be imbued with a sense of sin and guilt. It will be conscious of personal sin and of the evil of this condition. The sense of duty or moral obligation is, then, not only the foundation of a natural sense of God but also of a sense of sin and therefore of the need for a Redeemer. In fact according to him, a sense of sin is normally the foundation of authentic religion. According to Newman, inasmuch as man is a sinner, it is the publican who beats his breast while saying ‘have mercy on me a sinner’ who is most truly religious. Newman writes in A Grammar of Assent, ‘It is scarcely necessary to insist, that wherever Religion exists in a popular shape, it has almost invariably worn its dark side outwards. It is founded in one way or other on the sense of sin; and without that vivid sense it would hardly have any precepts or any observances.’(p.305) And again regarding authentic religion, he says that ‘Its large and deep foundation is the sense of sin and guilt, and without this sense there is for man, as he is, no genuine religion. Otherwise it is but counterfeit and hollow’ (p.311) And together with the Popes of this century we have to say that it is this sense of sin which is notoriously undeveloped in the modern age. Conscience prompts the soul to Catholicism in which Christ forgives man’s sins.

  Undoubtedly there are many starting points for the hunger for God in the lives of people, but Newman identifies one which is sure and profound. The surveys done in our schools have shown that our pupils do have a spiritual hunger. I propose that we help our pupils to discover the God of conscience calling them to goodness of life and to redemption from the sin to which their conscience should bear witness. The hunger of their hearts for God will be thus characterised by a desire for redemption and for holiness. This should be answered by the unambiguous witness of our schools to our sinful condition, to our need for a Redeemer, and to Christ as the one and only Lord and Saviour for sinful man. This Christ is the Christ of Catholicism, the Christ professed by Peter and his successors. Newman said that conscience leads one to the Catholic Church.

4. Let me conclude my presentation of these fundamental challenges by stating  some stark facts of which we are all aware. They give a cutting edge to our sense of urgency in meeting the challenge with vigour. These facts relate to the homes of our students, to the students themselves, and to our teachers.

  Firstly, as to the homes of our students. There is little doubt that the most decisive factor in a young person growing up Christian and Catholic is the parental influence of the home. By nature and divine law the parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children. Well, the facts are that there has been a marked decline in the religious quality of students’ homes over the past three decades. Flynn (The Culture of Catholic Schools, 1993, p.413) tells us that while in 1972 83% of parents expected their children to attend Sunday Mass, by 1990 this figure had dropped to 53%. At the same time the proportion of students who considered that their parents did not care whether they went to Mass or not had more than trebled. The state of home life constitutes a great challenge.

  Then there are the pupils themselves. In his 1993 publication (p.426) Flynn reports a consistent and steady decline in the participation of youth in Sunday Mass over the previous two decades. Only a little over a third of students considered that going to Mass was important to them or that Catholics should receive the sacraments regularly (p.413). About 20% of students rarely or never turned to prayer. The Catholic love of Scripture did not appear to have touched the lives of students in general. A marked alienation towards the Church was found among Year 12 students, though about 40% believed that the Church was important in their lives. In view of what I have said this is a most important challenge. There has also been a marked decline in the moral values of students in respect to sexuality over the past three decades, when judged in the light of Catholic moral teaching. This included a greater acceptance of abortion, increased permissiveness regarding sexual intercourse outside marriage, a greater willingness to accept de facto relationships, and increasing acceptance of euthanasia (p.414). Educating effectively on the truth and value of the Church’s teaching on sexual morality is the challenge now, for students’ social justice values are generally positive. The most recent research (the Catholic Schools 2000 Research by Flynn and Mok conducted in 1998 and completed last August 1999), reveals that only 16% of the Year 12 students in the seventy schools surveyed said that religion was very important in their lives (Student Questionaire, p.10). 30% rarely attend Sunday Mass and 64% rarely or never receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 25% rarely pray.
  Then there are our teachers. Marcellin Flynn reported (1993, p.403-4) that a reasonably large group of teachers choose to teach in Catholic schools because of a love and aptitude for teaching as well as because of the quality of education being offered there. They have a love for teaching, an appreciation of their own subject disciplines and a personal interest in students. Their motivation is primarily professional and educational. This group of teachers tend to view teaching principally in terms of a profession. A smaller number of teachers are also attracted to these schools for religious reasons, viewing teaching as a vocation and wishing to be involved in the Church’s mission to youth. They consider teaching not only as a profession but as a share in the Church’s apostolate as well.

  But of course the school is established by the Church as a means to fulfil her own mission. We must help our teachers to see this and to resist the tendency to regard teaching as a mere profession, a tendency that can affect even teachers of religion. Some years back I was told by a priest that a young parishioner requested from her parish priest a reference to accompany her application for a position as a teacher of religion. She informed him that she had just graduated with honours in religious education from the North Sydney campus of what is now the Catholic University. When the parish priest adverted to the fact that, despite her parents being daily communicants, she herself had not been seen by him at Mass for some three to four years, she admitted to missing Mass over that period. Then when he asked her what the Mass is, she could give no satisfactory answer. He then proceeded to explain that it would be wrong for him to support the application of one who neither believed in nor understood the Mass, which is the very centre of the Catholic religion. He suggested that she reconsider her position for a week or so and then return. Well, about two weeks later she returned triumphant. She was now REC at an important Catholic High school in the neighbouring Archdiocese. The principal had assured her that she had the very qualifications he was seeking. Any question of reliance on a reference from the parish priest was disregarded. This may be a very isolated case but my purpose in mentioning it is to illustrate the danger of mere professionalism. Academic degrees alone are not sufficient.

   In respect to teachers again, Flynn (1993, p.405) reported that in their responses to his Staff Questionaire, only 44% of teachers considered that Catholic teachers set an example of what it means to be practising Catholics. In open-ended comments a significant number of teachers referred to the lack of any religious commitment on the part of some staff members and recent graduates of Catholic higher education institutes. There is little doubt, Flynn continues, that there are teachers in Catholic schools who are strongly opposed to the religious and Catholic aims of the schools and, as a consequence, are exerting a negative influence on students. The open-ended comments of some parents and teachers also raise the possibility that the very life-style of a very small number of teachers may be having an adverse effect on some late adolescents. Flynn tells us (1993, p.406) that there are strong suggestions in the data that marked differences in religious values and practice exist amongst staff members of Catholic schools. Indeed, he informs us (p.406), the influence of many teachers was found to be having a negative impact on students’ religious beliefs and values, as well as on their moral and social justice values. Although students’ relationships with teachers tend to be warm and positive in a professional sense, (in many schools) they do not appear to promote the religious development of students. Flynn observes (1993, p.405) that about two thirds of students over the two decades of his study did not consider that what they had learnt in their ordinary school subjects had any influence on their religious development. At the same time, the proportion of students who considered that their school work had strengthened their faith declined from 28% in 1972 to 17% in 1990. Year 12 students today, he writes, do not perceive any strong connection between religious and other forms of schooling. In the Catholic Schools 2000 Research conducted during 1998 (Student Questionaire, p.9), 64% of the Year 12 students of the seventy schools surveyed said that what they learnt in school subjects other than RE had no effect on their Christian beliefs. I am not saying that this is the case in our diocese, nor that it is necessarily happening right now, but it constitutes a great challenge.

   The issue at stake is the integration of  faith with culture, the setting forth of the primacy of Christ. The key to it will lie, I think, in ensuring that critical positions within our schools are occupied by excellent personnel who will truly advance the apostolate of the Church as it is officially understood by the Church. It is firmly established by all the studies that the principal plays a key role in determining the effectiveness of a Catholic school, particularly as regards the transmission of its Christian message. His influence is pervasive, but naturally he depends on the values of teachers who occupy key roles such as the REC. (Flynn, 1993, p.407-8). And of course a principal who has deeply at heart the mission of the Church as the Church understands it will select teachers accordingly. In this connection, there needs to be good leadership succession planning. I refer you to Bro. Kelvin Canavan’s paper on this very topic given at the 1998 National Conference of the Australian College of Education. In his paper he details a twelve step process designed to ensure that when a vacancy occurs the organisation has available people who have received some preparation for the position. I propose that very central in their preparation should be the acquisition of a faith-filled view of Christ being head of His Church, and an understanding of the school as an embodiment of the Church’s apostolate.

  The facts I have presented are stark but there is no doubt that there are clear ways of making our schools effective. Furthermore, Christ with his grace is present and working in the Church to enable the Church to evangelise with power and effect. This power and grace must be a foremost resource of our schools. That is another reason why it is important that the school do its work in union with the Church - so as to be in union with Christ her head, with Christ who is the source of saving grace. Our schools are an enormous asset for the work of evangelisation. Flynn (both in The Effectiveness of Catholic Schools 1985, and in 1993) is very clear that Catholic schools have an influence on students which is independent of other influences such as that of the home, peer group or parish. They have an independent impact in areas related to education and religious education. Students’ enthusiasm for retreats and kindred activities point to a deep spiritual hunger in their lives, and great numbers of parents want Catholic schools for their children.

    I began this by stating that there is no doubt that in many respects the story of Catholic schools in Australia has been a success story. One senses that great achievements are possible if we harness for the work the elements of influence in our schools. Great challenges are ahead and it is the laity who will determine whether or not a school realizes its aims (Lay Catholics in Schools, Congr. for Cath. Educ. 1982, no.1). Our school personnel must have a clear sense of what we are all about. But I am confident that if we take appropriate measures, if we select key personnel with both professional competence and a Catholic mind and then continue to form them in the mind of the Church, our schools will continue to go from strength to strength in achieving the difficult but all-important goals for which the Church has established them.