|Excerpted from a speech originally given by Fr. John Hardon, S. J.
at a home school seminar in Oct. 1991, St. Paul, MN. Reprinted with
permission. Fr. John Hardon, S.J., a noted theologian and home school
advocate, is also the author of numerous books. He resides at the
University of Detroit-Mercy in Detroit, MI.
I would like to address the subject of Catholic home schooling in the
tradition of the Catholic Church, and my plan is to cover three
areas of a large subject.
What has the Catholic Church considered as home schooling in the
Church's history? Secondly, why is home schooling
necessary? And thirdly, how should home schooling be done most
The focus I would like to take is of home schooling as authentically
Catholic. I would like to begin first with a general definition of
Catholic home schooling, and then distinguish various kinds of home
schooling in the Church's history.
Catholic home schooling is the planned and organized teaching and
training of children at home, for their peaceful and effective
life in this world, and for their eternal salvation in the world
I distinguish teaching from training, for I say that teaching
addresses itself mainly to the mind, and training to the will;
indeed, the training of the mind is in order to motivate the
We get our principles for authentic Catholic home schooling from
Christ's closing directive to His apostles: "To teach all
nations" — that's the mind — "to observe all that I have
commanded you" — that's with the will. Home schooling,
therefore, addresses itself to the mind in order that the will might
be motivated to do God's will. It is the teaching and training of children
at home that distinguishes it from teaching and training in formal
Having said that, we must immediately distinguish among the different
forms that Catholic home schooling has taken over the centuries,
depending on the conditions of the Church at any given time in
her history. The conditions are as follows: first in missionary
times before the Church had been established in any particular
country or locality; second, home schooling once the Church had
been firmly established third, home schooling where the Church is
strongly opposed; and finally, where the Church has been
disestablished, especially by civil authority.
I will identify the Church's condition in our country: the Church
under opposition and not yet formally disestablished.
Home schooling in the United States is the necessary concomitant of a
culture in which the Church is being opposed on every level of her
existence and, as a consequence, given the widespread secularization
in our country, home schooling is not only valuable or useful but
it is absolutely necessary for the survival of the Catholic
church in our country.
Home schooling, in our country, is that form of teaching and training
of children at home in order to preserve the Catholic faith in
the family, and to preserve the Catholic faith in our country.
Our second reflection is why. There are four principal reasons why
Catholic home schooling is necessary. . . . Home schooling has been
necessary in the Catholic Church since her foundation. The
necessity, therefore, is not the necessity that is the result of
an emergency. No, Catholic home schooling is necessary — period. And one reason is that it was
so widely neglected before. So many parents practically abdicated
their own obligation to teach their own children, and then found
out, sadly, their children were not being given a Catholic
How do we know that home schooling is necessary? First, we know it
from divine revelation. The early Church is normative, not only
on what we should believe as Catholics but on how we ought to
learn our faith . . . and live it. There were not established
Catholic schools in the Roman Empire back in the first 300 years
of the Church's history. Except for parents becoming, believing,
and being heroic Catholics in the early Church, nothing would
have happened. The Church would have died out before the end of
the first century.
CHURCH'S TEACHING AND HISTORY
There is no single aspect of religious instruction that, over the centuries,
the Church has not more frequently, or more insistently, taught the
faithful, than of the parents on how to provide for the religious, and,
therefore, also human, education and upbringing of their offspring. So
true is this that it is the second and co-equal purpose for Christ instituting
the Sacrament of Matrimony, for the procreation and the education
of children. By whom? By the parents! That is why Christ instituted the
Sacrament of Matrimony. So how do we know that home schooling is
necessary? Because the Church has always taught it.
Where has the Church survived? Only and wherever — and this is historically provable
— home schooling over the centuries by
the Catholic parents has been taken so seriously that they
considered it their most sacred duty, after having brought the
children into the world physically, to parent them spiritually.
The necessity for home schooling is not only a natural necessity, it
is a supernatural necessity. Have parents over the centuries, in
all nations, from the dawn of human history, in every culture,
had the obligation to teach and train their children? Yes, the
same ones who brought the children physically into the world have
a natural obligation, binding in the natural law, to provide for
the mental, moral, and social upbringing of their offspring. Yet
since God became man, the necessity, and therefore the
corresponding obligation, becomes supernatural.
What do we mean when we say that Catholic home schooling is a
supernatural necessity? We mean that in God's mysterious but
infallible providence, He channels His grace from human beings
who already possess that grace. It is a platitude to say that we
cannot give what we do not have. Nobody would ever learn the
alphabet. We would not know how to read or write, or even know
how to eat.
We have to be taught everything we know. The real necessity for
Catholic home schooling is not because we naturally need someone
else to bring us into the world, nor to teach us what we need to
know and do as human beings. Since the coming of Christ we are no
longer mere human beings.
BECOMING CHANNELS OF GRACE
At baptism, we receive the life which is the very life of God shared
by Him with His creatures. And just as no one give himself
natural life, so no one receives or nurtures or develops or grows
in that supernatural life that we receive at baptism.
The main reason for home schooling is that only those who have God's
grace are used by Him as channels of grace to others.
Over the centuries, our principal Jesuit apostolate has been
teaching. And we are told, in the most uncompromising language,
"You will be able to teach others, you will share with them,
only what you are yourselves."
No one else can teach the faith...except the person who has it. But
possessing divine grace, beginning with the virtue of faith, is not
only a condition, it is also the measure for the communication of
grace. Weak-believing parents will be weak conduits of the grace
of faith to their children. Strong-believing parents will be
strong conduits of the grace of faith. This is not good
psychology and it is not good example. This is Divine Revelation.
In the mysterious providence of God, this is the law: Only those who
possess the supernatural life and the measure of the possession of
faith, hope and charity will God use as the channels of His grace
to their children.
LIVE OUR HOLY FAlTH
How are parents to provide for the Catholic home schooling for their
children? First, the principal and most fundamental way is by living
strong Catholic lives. All the academic verbiage and planned
pedagogy are useless. Only persons who have God's grace will He
use as the channels of His grace to others, and no one, but no
one, cheats here.
What then is the first way to be an effective home schooling parent
while living a good Catholic life?
For Catholic parents to live good Catholic lives in our day requires
heroic virtue. Only heroic parents will survive the massive, demonic
secularization of materially super- developed countries like
And consequently, far from being surprised, parents should expect
that home schooling will not be easy. Any home schooling in the
U.S. which is easy today is not authentic Catholic home
schooling. If it is easy, there is something wrong.
Today, Catholic parents must not only endure the cross, resign
themselves to living the cross, but they are to choose the cross.
In case no one has told you, when you chose home schooling, you
chose a cross-ridden form of education.
This is the age of martyrs . . . and a martyr is one who suffers for
the profession of his faith. There is red martyrdom and white
martyrdom. There is bloody martyrdom and unbloody martyrdom.
You have to live a heroic Catholic life in America today. God will
use you and provide you with the knowledge and the wisdom,
providing you are living the authentically heroic Catholic life.
KNOW AND IMPART THE FAITH
Secondly, if you want to teach and train your children, you must know
your faith. You must grasp and understand the faith. Read the
14th chapter of St. Matthew where Our Lord tells the parable of
the sower sowing seeds. Seeds fell on four kinds of ground. The
first three kinds were unfruitful. As Jesus said, birds came
along and picked up the seed, and nothing grew. The disciples
asked Jesus for the meaning. The Lord explained that the seeds
falling on the wayside are those persons who have received the
Word of God into their hearts and fail to understand it, and therefore
the evil one comes along and steals it from their hearts.
That is why America now has millions of ex-Catholics. They have never
understood their faith.
I have strong encouragement from the Holy See to train parents. You
are all welcome to learn your faith so that you grasp and
understand your faith. Then God will use you to teach your
children as a channel of faith. Teach, not only by rote memory,
but to grasp the faith.
Many Catholics, before they finish college, discard their faith as a
remnant of childhood. They don't understand. I myself had 16 years
of Jesuit education, and 15 more years before I started teaching.
There are oceanic depths to our faith, and you must learn as much
as you can, so that God will use you as an effective channel of
grace so you can communicate your faith to your offspring.
TRUE SCHOOLING and THE SACRAMENTAL LIFE
Next, Catholic home schooling must be schooling. There must be organization,
administration, a pattern, a schedule, and a program. Somebody
has to be in charge. Mother and father must cooperate in the home
Home schooling must be sacramental. In other words, the Church that
Christ founded is the Church of the Seven Sacraments, especially
the Sacraments of Eucharist and Confession.
You, yourselves, should receive the sacraments of Holy Communion and
Confession. Train your children to live a sacramental life.
Finally, to be authentically Catholic, home schooling must be
prayerful. The single most fundamental thing you can teach your
children, bar none, is to know the necessity and method of
You must pray yourselves. Without prayer, all the schooling in the
world will not produce the effect which God wants home schooling
to give, because home schooling is a communication of divine
grace, from Christ to the parents to the children. And the
principle way parents communicate from Christ to their children,
the grace upon which those children will be saved, is prayer.