By Bishop Kevin J. Farrell
Publisher of The Texas Catholic
“Education cannot be neutral. It is either positive or negative; either it enriches or it impoverishes; either it enables a person to grow or it lessens, even corrupts him.” — Pope Francis
As we observe Catholic Schools Week from Jan. 31 through Feb. 6, reflection on the theme chosen for 2016 seems appropriate, “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.”
Faith, the first of the trilogy in that theme, reflects the words of the Holy Father at the top of this blog, namely that “education cannot be neutral.” The important difference in Catholic schools is that they are Catholic, the curriculum is infused with the values of the Gospel. Our new Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Matthew Vereecke, put it well in an interview last week.
“We should have two outcomes for every student that we form: college and heaven,” he said. “These two goals completely encapsulate the mission of Catholic schools: first, an unmatched rigor in academics that propels students to outstanding outcomes, and second an unwavering commitment to a student’s spiritual, social, moral and ethical growth.”
Vereecke’s observations lead us to the second element of the theme, knowledge. It is not only the acquisition of knowledge, but also the development of critical thinking skills that enable students to understand it and apply it in their lives.
Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, “We are living in an information-driven society which bombards us indiscriminately with data—all treated as being of equal importance—and which leads to remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment. In response, we need to provide an education which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values.” (EG §64)
In his remarks, Vereecke pointed out that, “Catholic schools must be about so much more than simply passing a certain test at a certain time. We must be entirely committed to the idea that we will form students in such a way that all will be able to sustain family, career, faith and the church.”
Thirdly, service, Catholic education must develop a sense of the common good, a recognition of our interdependence and a realization that our faith and our discipleship call us to imitate Jesus who came to serve, not be served. (Mark 10:45).
Finally, Catholic education must be accessible. The Diocese of Dallas recognizes the sacrifices made by parents to send their children to Catholic schools and strives to provide financial assistance through a variety of scholarships and other programs, not the least of which are the funds raised by the Bishop Farrell Annual Invitational Golf Tournament.
I salute the administrators and teachers whose commitment to Catholic education makes our schools “Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.”
Bishop Kevin J. Farrell is the seventh bishop of Dallas. Read his blog at bishopkevinfarrell.org/blog.