Catholic identity forms heart and soul of Catholic schools

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | February 13, 2012 | 0 Comments

Karen Ristau

At the foundation of a Catholic school’s function and responsibility is its Cath­olic identity, which brings Christ to young people and prepares them for adult life with a Catholic world view, said Karen Ristau, president of the National Catholic Educational Association.

Ristau delivered the keynote address at the Archdiocesan Elementary Governance Advisory Council Conference Feb. 11 at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis.

The conference was planned by the governance committee of the newly created Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Advisory Council, in conjunction with the archdiocesan Cath­olic Schools Office, to address good governance for Catholic schools.

The event aimed to help members of  individual Catholic school advisory councils “as to what their roles and responsibilities are,” said Marty Frau­en­heim, archdiocesan superintendent of Catholic schools. She said the archdiocese is aiming to get all Catholic schools into new best practice models by 2013.

Ristau’s talk did a good job of framing the essential elements of Catholic identity that will be published in booklet form for all Catholic schools and institutions, Frauenheim said.

Ristau outlined a set of characteristics of Catholic identity for Catholic schools that are part of a study produced through Loyola University in Chicago. The study, “National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools,” will be formally released this spring.

In a later interview, Ristau said she hoped the pastors, presidents, principals, school council members and parish leaders who later participated in breakout sessions on governance, marketing, budgeting, development and other topics would focus on the deeper meaning of Catholic identity, of which academics are a part.

“What it means to be Catholic has to be deeply interior. Because if it’s just the crucifix in the classroom, you leave the classroom, it’s not with you. It has to be in your heart and your soul and your mind,” she said.

Catholic characteristics

The characteristics of Catholic identity in Catholic schools, as outlined by Ristau in her presentation, are:

  •  Centered in the person of Jesus.

All aspects of Catholic school programs, life and activities should foster a relationship with Jesus Christ because the foundation of Catholic education is faith in God as revealed by Christ, Ristau said.

  •  Contribute to the evangelizing message of the church.

Catholic schools participate directly in the church’s evangelizing mission as they encourage students to join actively in their faith community and engage in the world, she said.

  •  Distinguished by excellence.

Catholic schools have an obligation to be excellent in all of their programs, as outlined in canon law, Ristau said. A dichotomy shouldn’t exist in how a school views its “Catholicity” and its academics.

“We don’t want to seek the least common denominator,” she said. “We want to go higher and better in everything we do.” Students also need to be engaged in religion classes the way they are in other subjects, Ristau said.

  •  Educate the whole child.

Schools need to provide education for the intellectual, physical, psychological, social, moral, aesthetic and religious needs of the student, she said, adding that schools have long been doing that.

“We are made in God’s image [which] calls us to a truly holistic education so that education should engage the whole person — heads, hearts, hands,” she said.

  •  Steeped in Catholic world view.

Catholic education should foster the desire to seek wisdom and truth, a preference for social justice, the discipline to become self-learners, the capacity to recognize an ethical/moral grounding for behavior and the responsibility to transform the world with Gospel values.

  • Sustained by Gospel witness.

Catholic schools give witness to the Gospel in curriculum, programs, respect, priorities, budgets, codes of conduct and codes of discipline.

  •  Shaped by communion, community.

Each Catholic school is both an educational and faith community. Christians are called to live through community, which requires cooperation, collaboration, mutual support, partnership, trust and right relationship with teachers, parents and governing bodies, Ristau said.

  •  Accessible to all students.

Catholic schools need to manage resources and seek innovative options to ensure that Catholic school education is accessible, she said. “Jesus did not say bring 80 percent of the people to me. Jesus said bring all the children to me,” Ristau said. “That is really, really hard to do but I think it’s a mandate that we have.”

  •  Established by authority of the bish­op.

Catholic schools exist with the support of their bishop and need to have a relationship of trust, close cooperation and continuing dialogue with him, she said.

Dorwatha Woods, principal of Ascension School in Minneapolis, said she sees the importance of making Catholic education accessible to all children.

“It affirmed in me, as a principal of a Catholic school, that we really need to learn how to teach the whole child,” Woods said.

Catholic Spirit news editor Pat Norby contributed to this story.

Tags: , ,

Category: Local News