Mission of Consecrated Persons in the School

Author: Archbishop Joseph Pittau, S.J.


Archbishop Joseph Pittau, S.J.
Secretary, Congregation for Catholic Education

On 19 November, Archbishop Joseph Pittau, S.J., addressed the history and impact of men and women religious on the formation of young people. He gave a general view of the present situation in the world today. Very interesting was the judgement of the Catholic Bishops of mission countries in Asia. "The Bishops of Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and other countries testify to the importance of the Catholic school for evangelization. Many Bishops even say that 90% of the baptized had their first contact with the faith through their Catholic schooling. Consecrated persons, men and women, can introduce children to the spirit of prayer and holiness partly by their teaching, but especially by the life they live, consecrated to the Lord and full of joy". Archbishop Pittau highlighted the work of enlightened Foundresses of women's institutes in promoting the education of girls and women in the last few centuries. Here is a translation of his presentation.

Brothers and Sisters,

With this presentation of the document "Consecrated Persons and their Mission in Schools",Iwould first of all like to say a few words on the situation of consecrated persons in Catholic schools today. Although there are no statistics on the exact number of religious who teach in schools, I think it is possible to offer a general view, seen from various parts of the world.

Decline in the number of men and women religious in schools in the Western world

First and foremost, as you know, in the years immediately following the Second Vatican Council, the number of men and women religious teachers fell sharply. As an example, I can mention the situation in the United States of America. In 1970 more than half the 200,000 teachers in Catholic schools were consecrated persons or priests (51%). In 10 years the proportion had fallen to 30%; in another 10 years to 15% and after a further 10 years, that is, in the year 2000, it had dropped to 7.5% with a few more than 12,000 teachers (cf. Official Catholic Directory).

In the short period of 30 years, the presence of consecrated persons has fallen drastically, radically changing the features of the Catholic School, and making it much more difficult to preserve the Catholic identity. While this example represents only one nation, it is likely to be an example of what happened in the majority of countries in the Western world.

Some "news reports" on the world situation show us that in the academic year 1999-2000, in the school sector in Spain, there were 11,000 consecrated persons out of a total of 79,000 teachers; that is, 14% of the teaching staff. These teachers belong to 240 women's congregations and 53 men's institutes.

Zimbabwe: numbers of men and women religious

A glance at the Church of Zimbabwe in Africa, shows us that in 1997 there were 74 Catholic elementary schools and 56 secondary schools, with 23 priests, 18 religious brothers and 142 sisters, that is 7% of the teaching staff, with 8% in secondary schools and the remaining 5% in the elementary schools (cf. 1997, Annual Report of ZCBC Education Commission,Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference).

South Korea has many men and women religious in schools

To take an example from Asia, we can look at South Korea, one of the nations where vocations are the most numerous. In South Korea there are 300 Catholic schools with 500 priests and consecrated persons who represent 11% of the teaching staff of 4,500 persons. On the other hand, in nursery schools, which account for 75% of the Catholic schools in South Korea, one teacher out of five is a consecrated person, and almost all are women religious (cf. Statistics of the Catholic Church in Korea: 2001, Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea).

In Asia, 90% of baptized Catholics come from Catholic schools

From my personal experience of 29 years in Japan with visits to other Asian countries, I can testify to the vital importance of nursery schools for evangelization in the Far East. Nursery school children are still very open to the Christian values, and their parents, whose contact with school diminishes in proportion to the children's age, are often attracted to the faith or strengthened in the faith through their children. The Bishops of Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailandand other countries testify to the importance of the Catholic school for evangelization. Many Bishops even say that 90% of the baptized had their first contact with the faith through their Catholic schooling.

Consecrated persons, men and women, can introduce children to the spirit of prayer and holiness partly by their teaching, but especially by the life they live, consecrated to the Lord and full of joy.

Allow me to make a personal confession. My first experience as a teacher was at a lower middle school that was run by the Jesuits. I taught English and social ethics. I had 180 students. About 90 of thesewere baptized during their school years or after they graduated.

Consecrated persons and the history of education

Since the Middle Ages, the Church, especially through religious communities, has been in the forefront of the field of education. The few educational institutions that existed were the schools of cathedrals and monasteries, and the ecclesial universities. The European educational system was truly born "ex corde Ecciesiae" (from the heart of the Church). The beginning of the 16th century saw the flourishing of many religious orders and congregations that were dedicated to the educational apostolate, especially the education of the children of the poor who could not receive a systematic education. In many countries, consecrated persons led the way in establishing new schools in the spirit of their founders and foundresses who saw education as an effective means for the apostolate.

An essential element of the education imparted by consecrated persons has always been an integral formation in a context of faith, which offers children the opportunity to "develop harmoniously their physical, moral and intellectual qualities ... to be stimulated to make sound moral judgements basedon a well-formed conscience and to put them into practice with a sense of personal commitment, and to know and love God more perfectly" (Gravissimum educationis, n. 1). For centuries, consecrated persons, brothers and priests, have devoted their lives, often in oppressive financial, politicalor religious conditions, to guiding children and adolescents in their formation, communicating to them not only a sound intellectual formation, but also a deep appreciation of the gift of faith.

Founders of orders for the formation of youth

This totaldedication of men and women religious led to a great revolution in the world of education. It suffices to mention only a few founders and foundresses to understand the influence exercised by consecrated persons in the field of the formation of youth.

St Jerome Emiliani foundedthe Congregation of the Somascan Fathers forthe education of orphans, with a programme that included "Christian doctrine, reading, writing, the abacus, music and playing in concerts" in such a way "thatwith the training in the various arts and virtues, each one may follow his own inclinations and honourably earn his living". The Somascans also opened schools for the nobility.

St Anthony Mary Zaccaria founded the Barnabites (ClerksRegular of St Paul), who built schools and colleges and educated outstanding figures in the fields of research and the professions.

The Jesuits, founded by St Ignatius of Loyola, exercised a great influence in the period of Renaissance humanism and the Counter-Reformation. Their educational method was based on a double tradition: that of the scholastics who exalted intellectual analysis and learning as an end in itself, and that of humanists who attributed to education an important role for the entire society. The Jesuits created a synthesis of the two traditions. Both intellectual competence and the preparation for and dedication to service constitute the aim of education. Education had to enable the studentto become both good and well-instructed. Both pietas (holiness) and eruditio (erudition) were necessary.

At the outset the Piarists, founded by StJoseph Calasanz, worked almost exclusively with the children of the poor. In Trastevere, Rome, they founded the first free school for the poor in Europe. They attached great importance to teaching arithmetic, geometry, drawing and architecture. They wanted to train boys to master the necessary tools to equip them for an activity with which they could earn an honest living.

St John de la Salle founded the Brothers of the Christian Schools, a congregation dedicated exclusively to education, consisting solely of teachers who were consecrated lay religious.

St William Chaminade foundedthe Marianists who desired to counter the de-Christianization of the French Revolution. The Marists, founded by Marcellin-Joseph-Benôit Champagnat,also sought to oppose the growing secularization in the first half of the 19th century.

Don Bosco was an innovative educator who founded the Salesians,and together with St Domenica Maria Mazzarello,also the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.They were inspired by the principle of preventive education to form honest citizens and good Christians.Don Bosco confronted the social problem of youth; he was concerned with the "poor and abandoned" young people, unruly as a group and being a danger to the moral and social order. Religious and recreational activities, reading and writing classes, professional schools and job training, prevention in termsof assistance (food,clothing, lodging, instruction) and preventive education, meaning that the failings and deviations from the rules were not repressed or punished, but prevented from happening. At the same time, he fostered all that might contribute to the growth of the young people.

Foundresses of orders for the education of girls and women

So far, I havementioned almost exclusively male religious congregations, but the female congregations made a very great contribution to the instruction and education of girls and young women, and now also that of boys.

Since the Middle Ages, the education of women outside the family was mainly connected with the education provided in convents to whom families, especially the nobility, entrusted their daughters at an early age for their human and Christian formation.

St Angela Merici founded the Society of St Ursula (Ursulines) which then developed into various forms of consecrated life: communities of virgins grouped into associations, living in their own family and work place, colleges of virgins bound to God with private vows, traditional monasteries and congregations that lived a community life. All these experiences were based on Angela Merici's spiritual doctrine, which had three essential dimensions: total consecration to God, complete dedication to charitable works, including teaching and education, the fulfilment of a bond of sacred charity in personal relationships, inspired by a family style.

From this basic inspiration many religious congregations came into being, who were dedicated to the educational apostolate.

Survey of religious congregations done by the Congregation

Three years ago, the Congregation for Catholic Education asked the various religious communities involved in education to share their recent documents, describing the principles, guidelines and features of their educational activity. Hundreds of documents arrived from around the world from which we have been able to draw a wealth of ideas and experiences. It is important that this treasure of pedagogical knowledge, prepared by consecrated persons who in humility and generosity, in the various parts of the world, work in the educational apostolate, not be dispersed but be available for reciprocal enrichment.

St Julie Billiart, Sisters of St Francis of Christ the King

I would like to mention here only two "pearls", chosen from among the many treasures that we have received. St Julie Billiart, foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame, describeseducation "first and foremost as a work of faith. Seen from the perspective of faith, every job, even the most insignificant, becomes great in God's eyes. Education is a work of hope, forhope is always a source of new courage in order not to lose heart in the face of sufferings and problems, but rather to find in our labours their salvific value. Education is a work of love, the love of Christ that impels us to love all our brothers and sisters and, in a preferential way, the neediest, by offering our lives for their salvation. It is a work of prayer. Only through prayer can our work produce fruit in the heart of the students we wish to educate".

The second "pearl" presents us an example of the capacity of a charism, united with hundreds of other charisms, to express the magnificent diversity of the Church in her members. "What Franciscan schools contribute in the apostolate of education is the integration of faith, culture and life, An effort is made to raise the student to a completely human level open to divine grace. For us, the School Sisters of St Francis of Christ the King, education is our way of life. It is the fruit of a deep love inspired by the Gospel: a person who is a brother and sister of all because he or she lives the universal fatherhood of God. It is a human person, a builder of peace, a bearer of peace, who fully develops the talents received from God for the benefit of all" (Inspiration: TheEducational Mission of the School of Sisters of St Francis of Christ the King,p. 11).

Benefit of personal contact of teachers-students

A large part of my life, including 29 years spent in Japan, has been dedicated to education. For two years (1954-56), perhaps the best years of my life, as I have already mentioned, I taught English and social ethics in a middle school in Japan. A month before the beginning of the school year, the headmaster gave me the list of my 180 students. For each one there were two pages of information: a photo of the student, his family situation, his strong and weak points, his hobbies, etc.... I had to study all this material, and be able, from the very first day of school, to call each student by his own name and know something about his personality. This preparation required an effort, but it was necessary in order to influence deeply each student. It strengthened my conviction that an effective educational relationship between teacher and pupil passes through personal attention to each one. A consecrated educator can dedicate himself to this work without sparing time or energy with an undivided heart.

I would like to conclude my presentation with the words of the Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata expressing the hope of the Church:

"With respectful sensitivity and missionary boldness, consecrated men and women should show that faith in Jesus Christ enlightens the whole enterprise of education, never disparaging human values, but rather confirming and elevating them. Thus do consecrated persons become witnesses and instruments of the power of the Incarnation and the vitality of the Spirit. This task of theirs is one of the most significant manifestations of that motherhood which the Church, in the image of Mary, exercises on behalf of all her children.... I warmly invite members of institutes devoted to education to be faithful to their founding charism and to their traditions, knowing that the preferential love for the poor finds a special application in the choice of means capable of freeing people from that grave form of poverty which is the lack of cultural and religious training (Vita consecrata, n. 97).  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
27 November 2002, page 5

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