Mission of Catholic Schools for Evangelization Today

Author: Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski


Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski
Prefect, Congregation for Catholic Education

On 19 November, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski presented the new instruction on "Consecrated Persons and their Mission in Schools", focusing on the indispensable mission of Catholic schools today in the work of the new evangelization. "Catholic schools, through the educational project based on the person of Jesus Christ and on the values of the Gospel, want to contribute to refocusing on the human person as the centre of the educational experience…" The Cardinal also spoke of how the text fits into the set of documents that the Congregation has published following up on the Second Vatican Council and the Synod on Consecrated Life. "This document, conceived as complementary to that on Catholic laity, comes in continuity with the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata, the result of the Synod on the consecrated life, as a deepening of the reasons for the indispensable presence of consecrated persons in the context of the school today… ". Here is a translation of the Cardinal's presentation.


I am pleased to present the document of the Congregation for Catholic Education: "Consecrated persons and their Mission in Schools: Reflections and guidelines",which the Holy Father has approved and whose publication he has authorized.

The title clearly describes the objectives of the document and the persons to whom it is addressed. With this contribution, the Congregation wishes to help consecrated persons to reflect on their educational presence in schools and to offer guidelines that should serve to motivate them and sustain them today in their educational mission. The document also wants to be an expression of gratitude to the consecrated persons who dedicate their life to the service of the education of the young generations. Indeed, as the Holy Father recently said, "The Church is indebted to consecrated persons for the marvellous pages of holiness and dedication to the cause of education and evangelization they have written, especially, during the last two centuries" (Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Catholic Education,4 February 2002, n. 5; ORE, 13 February 2002, p. 2). The fruitful meeting of consecrated persons and the world of education has produced a wise and effective pedagogical tradition which, in the light of the Gospel, serves the overall growth of the human person. The educational wisdom of Don Bosco, the attraction to the poor of Joseph Calasanz, the educational work of John Baptist de LaSalle, the concern for the education of girls and young women of Domenica Mazzarello and Lucia Filippini, to quote just a few of the best known names, are present in the treasure that consecrated persons bring with them to schools at the beginning of the third millennium.

In my presentation I aim to place the document in its proper context: schools and their needs; I will leave it to Archbishop Pittau to illustrate the educational commitment of consecrated persons in the Church and to Sr Antonia Colombo, Superior General of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, a congregation with an educational charism which is present in many places, to go into the text in detail.

Schools and education at the beginning of the new millennium

The document opens on to a panorama of the situation of the school in the third millennium. In fact, it deals with educational concerns and hopes that come from every part of the world. The field of education and the school is truly immense: there are more than a billion school-age children with their families, 58 million teachers, let alone non-teaching school personnel (UNESCO, Rapport sur 1'éducation 2000,Paris 2000, pp. 119-121). In these references are included Church scholastic institutes, over 250,000 schools with 42 million students (data supplied in 1994 by the Officeinternational de l'enseignement catholique [OIEC]). Wemust also mention the thousands of Catholic teachers, including a great many consecrated persons, who carry out their mission in State schools.

Besides the immensity of the "specific sector" of schools, I want to point out the growing interest in educational topics on the part of public opinion and the international community. In the last decades of the 20th century, people have become more convinced of the importance of education, In many world conferences, for example, at Jomptien (1991), Dakar (1998), etc., the international community placed an emphasis on the role of education for the future of humanity, for peace, for sustainable development, for the dignity of peoples. Here I would like to mention a single result of the interest in education: the report edited by Jacques Delors, (L'education, un trésor estcaché dedans,Report to l'UNESCO, Paris, 1996), in which the essential pillars of education of the 21st century are identified: "Apprendre á connaître" (learning to know); "Apprendre á faire" (learning to do); "Apprendre á vivre ensemble" (learning to live together) and "Apprendre á être" (learning to be). This is a global vision of education which, unfortunately, outside the context of official statements, is not concretely accepted. Indeed, the daily reality which school and education must confront is complex and difficult.

Even though the general view varies from place to place all over the world, there is agreement on some common elements. The most important of them is without a doubt globalization. In economics, globalization is spreading at an incredible pace and alongside undeniable benefits, it is giving rise to new problems with regard to employment, work and the distribution of wealth. Globalization is also a cultural, political and educational phenomenon. It encourages meetings and exchanges between individual peoples, but can produce a dangerous cultural homogenization. The application of new technologies, widespread computerization and the rapidity of communications make the adaptation of the scholastic and educational task so necessary that there is talk of a radical transformation of the traditional processes of teaching and learning. In addition, on the horizon there are threatening problems that profoundly affect human life: ecological and bioethical issues.

Role of education, the school in an ever more complex world

In so complex a world, it is natural that education and the school should assume a crucial role. Education is required to bring the new generations to a dynamic way of knowing that can prepare them to manage complex systems and enable the person to acquire new aptitudes for work.

In this same world in which the processes I have mentioned have increased the possibility for each individual to have access to information, there are still many places where access to primary education is denied. The data provided by UNESCO (op. cit., pp. 26-53) says that 135 million children between the ages of six and eleven years do not go to school and that more than 280 million children and young people are illiterate or have had no more than minimal schooling. The vast majority of illiterate adults, more than 800 million, and of young people who have not been to school is to be found in the developing countries, which widens the gap between the north and the south of the world.

Problems with education, the school today, loss of sense of mission

In addition to this kind of problem, the context of school today is marked by great trouble. In the school world, especially in the West, a widespread weariness can be perceived on the part of teachers, who feel unmotivated and frustrated in their educational task. Another very disturbing sign is the increase in violence at school and among adolescents; and in addition, the families, that we accept as primarily responsible for the education of the children, find it difficult to take an active part in the educational scholastic community. I believe I can say that the core of the problems of the school today is the obscuring, I hope not the loss, of the meaning of education. Such a loss of meaning is closely linked to the loss of values, especially those that support the decisions of life: the family, work, morals in general. Thus education is also suffering from the evils afflicting our societies: widespread subjectivism, moral relativism and nihilism. Schools are often asked to be merely instructive, that is, capable of providing cognitive instruments and of making "human resources" "function" in the complex economic system of our world. The Catholic pedagogical tradition, instead, forcefully reaffirms the centrality of the human person in the educational process. A correct educational approach must aim at the integral formation of the individual, bringing him into direct contact with culture and reality. The deepest demands of a society marked by scientific and technological development, which can result in depersonalization and standardization, require adequate responses and have underlined the need for an education which can form strong and responsible personalities that are capable of making free and responsible moral choices. Education must be able to make young people gradually more open to reality and help them to develop a strong healthy concept of life to which the spiritual, religious and human values are not foreign. An education that is purely technical and functional can lead to enabling the young generations, to use an image from the Sorcerer's Apprentice in the famous orchestral piece by Paul Dukas (a French composer [1865-1935]; L'apprenti sorcier [1897] was his most celebrated work), to conjure up spirits but not to control them. A formation that excludes wisdom and ignores the human being, and consequently his necessary moral conduct, would jeopardize the future of humanity.

The contribution of Catholic schools to the educational project

Catholic schools, through the educational project based on the person of Jesus Christ and on the values of the Gospel, want to contribute to refocusing on the human person as the centre of the educational experience. This means that the educational project must consider all the dimensions of the human person. Today people are experiencing in their lives a flood of contradictions, they are fragmented persons who find it difficult to accept and bring values into a synthesis. It is undeniable that along with progress in so many areas, people are finding it difficult to respond to the questions life places before them. Christian pedagogy and Catholic schools have a rich patrimony to put at the service of everyone. Therefore the person is not only the sum total of his horizontal dimensions, but also the harmonious composition of the ethical, spiritual and religious aspects of human reality. Thus the work of education has a spectrum of 3600. The proprium (specificity) of the Catholic educational project is to encourage an integral humanism, which finds in Christ its model and inspiration and seeks to develop the inner life, intelligence and will of the students, and to guide them in their decisions. In this context of all forms of education, the role of consecrated persons is not only important but indispensable, as they bring to bear "on the world of education their radical witness to the values of the Kingdom" (John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata, 25 March 1996, n. 96).

The ecclesial context

The"historical" circumstances in which the document comes into being are important. It is published shortly after the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council; it is significantly dated 28 October, the publication date of the conciliar Declaration on Christian Education Gravissimumeducationis. Thisis intended to express, even symbolically, the spirit in which we have published this document. The Council, ushered in a new season for the world of education, offering precious guidelines and inaugurating a period of reflection on the Church's educational mission. This document is another piece in the mosaic of the process of reflection and study that began with Gravissimumeducationis.Indeed, it is a service proper to the Congregation of which I am Prefect, to develop fundamental principles concerning Catholic education (cf. Declaration on Christian Education Gravissimumeducationis,Preface). In fidelity to this institutional task, in the 70s and 80s the Congregation promoted certain documents for the renewal of Catholic schools and the examination of relevant problems. The first was The Catholic School, published 25 years ago (19 March 1977; ORE,14 July 1977, p. 6 [part I], 21 July 1977, p. 4 [part II]). It can be said that the identikit of a school that claims to be Catholic was pieced together in this document. Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses toFaith (15October 1982; ORE,25 October 1982, p. 6 [Part I], 1 November 1982, p. 6 [Part II], 8 November 1982 [Part III]).

In 1983 Educational Guidance in Human Love was published (1 November 1983; ORE, 5 December 1983, p. 5). The text responded to the need to offer clear guidelines on the topic of sex education, which must include the anthropological and moral as well as biological aspects combined with pedagogical prudence and collaboration with families. In 1988 the document: Dimensione religiosadell'educazione nella scuola cattolica.Lineamenti per la riflessione e la revisione (Rome, 7 April 1988 in Enchiridion Vaticanum, vol. II, pp. 262-313). This document treated a subject of fundamental importance for Catholic schools, but also for all school education. Indeed, the religious dimension of knowledge and of the human person is all too often a missing link in the chain of school education, with resulting harm for the formation of the young generations. Recently, in 1997, with the approach of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 a circular letter was published entitled The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium (ORE, 22 April 1998, p. 4) which reflected on the identity and mission of Catholic schools in the contemporary educational context.

Present document

This document, conceived as complementary to that on Catholic laity, comes in continuity with the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata, the result of the Synod on the consecrated life, as a deepening of the reasons for the indispensable presence of consecrated persons in the context of the school today. In fact, consecrated persons make an essential contribution to developing the vertical dimension in educational and school activities, namely, openness to God, along with the horizontal dimension, an education for living responsibly with others. Indeed, through the evangelical counsels and the experience of community life they witness to an all-embracing, definitive commitment, a response of love to Christ, Teacher and Lord, who opens them to the gift of self to others. Their presence in the school, is a concrete and effective help in achieving the integral education of the young generations which today is so strongly needed and desired.


We hope the document will serve as an incentive to consecrated persons so that even in the present circumstances, with the decreasing number of vocations, despite the temptation to leave the service of education, the complexity of the world of education and school, they may continue to be aware of the nobility of educational service, "aimed at giving reasons for life and hope to the new generations, through critically processed knowledge and culture, on the basis of a concept of the person and of life inspired by the evangelical values" (Consecrated Persons and their Mission in Schools. Reflections and Guidelines, 28 October 2002, n. 84).  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
27 November 2002, page 4

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