As you can see from the many photos, advertisements and articles, Catholic Schools Week is upon us. The day before it begins we celebrate the memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest teachers the Church (or the world) has ever known. In an 1879 encyclical on Catholic philosophy (Aeterni Patris), which made many references to this saint, Pope Leo XIII wrote, “[Jesus] commanded the Apostles to go and teach all nations, and left the Church which He had founded to be the common and supreme teacher of the peoples.” Since the Church is all of us Catholics, we each are called upon by God to teach the world about God, each doing our own part as members of the Mystical Body of Christ. Parents have the preeminent role, since they are the first teachers of their children and have more exposure to their children than any classroom teacher might have.
As supports to the parents, the Church provides Catholic schools and Religious Education programs to help pass on the faith to which the children first become acquainted at home. The Second Vatican Council issued in 1965 a Declaration on Christian Education (known by its Latin title, Gravissimum Educationis), in which it said (at No. 2), “A Christian education does not merely strive for the maturing of a human person, but has as its principal purpose this goal: that the baptized, while they are gradually introduced the knowledge of the mystery of Salvation, become ever more aware of the gift of faith they have received, and that they learn in addition how to worship God the Father in Spirit and truth (cf. Jn 4:23) especially in Liturgical action, and be conformed in their personal lives according to the new man created in justice and holiness of truth (Eph 4:22-24); also that they develop into perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ (cf. Eph 4:13) and strive for the growth of the Mystical Body; moreover, that aware of their calling, they learn not only how to bear witness to the hope that is in them (cf. Pet 3:15) but also how to help in the Christian formation of the world that takes place when natural powers viewed in the full consideration of man redeemed by Christ contribute to the good of the whole society. Wherefore this Sacred synod (i.e., Vatican II) recalls to pastors of souls their most serious obligation to see to it that all the faithful, but especially the youth who are the hope of the Church, enjoy this Christian education.”
Dave Jolivet’s article, which begins on page two (as well as James Campbell’s column on page nine), describe how under Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V.’s leadership the Fall River Diocese is looking to see how we can better carry out this mandate from the council (and from Christ) in our Catholic schools.
The Vatican II declaration, in paragraph three, after discussing the parents’ crucial duty, speaks about the responsibility of the wider Church: “The Church is bound as a mother to give to these children of hers an education by which their whole life can be imbued with the Spirit of Christ and at the same time do all she can to promote for all peoples the complete perfection of the human person, the good of earthly society and the building of a world that is more human.”
The council fathers then present the duties before God that all (including public) schools have towards their students, after which they look at schools run by the Church in paragraph eight: “The influence of the Church in the field of education is shown in a special manner by the Catholic school. [I]ts proper function is to create for the school community a special atmosphere animated by the Gospel Spirit of freedom and charity, to help youth grow according to the new creatures they were made through Baptism as they develop their own personalities, and finally to order the whole of human culture to the news of Salvation so that the knowledge the students gradually acquire of the world, life and man is illumined by faith. So indeed the Catholic school, while it is open, as it must be, to the situation of the contemporary world, leads its students to promote efficaciously the good of the earthly city and also prepares them for service in the spread of the Kingdom of God, so that by leading an exemplary apostolic life they become, as it were, a saving leaven in the human community.”
The Diocese of Fall River is mindful of the need of that leaven in the human community, a leaven which would make our area more human (i.e., treating each other as we truly are — creatures created in the image and likeness of God) and more of a community (as opposed to people living in the same area but without feeling any responsibility for each other).
On Oct. 27, 2013, Pope Francis told families that they are called to be “missionary also in everyday life, in their doing everyday things, as they bring to everything the salt and the leaven of faith. The family which experiences the joy of faith communicates it naturally. That family is the salt of the earth and the light of the world, it is the leaven of society as a whole.” Our Catholic schools help the students and their families to be this leaven amongst us, but we realize that we are always in need of improvement, which is why Bishop da Cunha has had the schools themselves and the diocesan schools office do this thorough review so as to better respond to Divine duty. May we all do what we can to support them in this important effort — through our prayers, our donations, and our advocacy.