Catholic Schools

May 16, 2016

I am often asked by parents which Catholic high school will provide the best Catholic education for their teenage children. The question is prompted by the number of choices available, especially by state schools which also have a reputation for providing excellence and value-centred education. But those who ask me this question are seeking something more than excellent secular education. They are seeking an education that is robustly Catholic.

Rather than name individual schools, I usually ask these discerning parents to suggest some words, names and concepts they think should be central in an education that is Catholic. Their response usually surfaces the same words: Catholic, Church, God, Jesus Christ, prayer and sacraments among well chosen others. I then suggest that they look for these key words on Catholic school websites and listen for them at school open days.

The Christchurch Press in recent weeks has run a feature in which a number of city high schools promote themselves in the hope of attracting students. In the first Press offering were three Christchurch Catholic schools each presenting what they saw as the heart of their mission. The brief promotions reflect the diversity of thinking and practice in Catholic schools in New Zealand at present. I have reflected on this in other posts. You will make your own judgement by reading the brief articles attached below.

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from Paul Ferris, the new Chief Executive Officer of the New Zealand Catholic Education Office. Paul was writing to all parishes and schools advertising the upcoming annual New Zealand Catholic Schools Day to be held (today)  Monday May 16. The email offered a Power-Point file developed for the promotion of Catholic schools, especially on Catholic Schools Day.

The Power-Point presentation is clear and focusses on our Catholic life reflected in unmistakably Catholic vocabulary. There is no doubt that this brief and attractive presentation is promoting sound and life-giving Catholic education centred on Jesus Christ. You can watch the presentation at this link.

This focus is clear and unchanged since the Integration Act of 1975 which defined the Catholic School:

”The school is a Roman Catholic school in which the whole school community, through the general school programme and in its religious instructions and observances exercises the right to live and teach the values of Jesus Christ. These values are as expressed in the Scriptures and in the practices, worship and doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, as determined from time to time by the Roman Catholic Bishop of the diocese.”

In 2014 the New Zealand bishops published an inspired and challenging reflection  entitled The Catholic Education of School-Age Children.  In this document the bishops place Jesus Christ at the centre of the educational endeavour of a Catholic school:

“The Catholic school is first and foremost a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth. Its primary goal is above all a question of communicating Christ, of helping to form Christ in the lives of others. That is the goal against which the effectiveness of Catholic schools must be assessed, because it is the reason for their existence. (par.28)

A parent who followed my advice to watch for the Catholic vocabulary featured in the NZ Catholic Education Office presentation, in the Integration Act and in the bishops’ inspiring document, would not recognise two of the three Christchurch colleges (in the Press feature) as Catholic. One of the three avoids Catholic vocabulary completely and a second appears to be Catholic only in the name of the school. However the third College is clearly and unambiguously a Catholic college unashamedly striving to be an authentic place of vibrant Catholic education.

It is clear from the brief promotional blurbs provided by the three Colleges that each is seeking to provide excellence in every academic, sporting and cultural endeavour. But it is not enough for a Catholic school to top the NCEA charts, or to present itself only as an academic, sporting or cultural academy of excellence.  All the high schools in the country have this goal in their sights.

A Catholic school exists for something more, as the bishops remind us: “First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth.”

click on the images below to enlarge for reading

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