The Difference of a Catholic Education
By Father Cooper
The philosopher and Catholic convert Alasdair MacIntyre once wrote that the “liberal arts and sciences” — the heart of a well-rounded education — can only be understood by a certain kind of public. Unless a culture shares certain standards of judgment, a common sense of the past, and the skills to take part in common public debate, schooling becomes just another consumer product.
To put it another way, education fails when it only amounts to pouring facts into students’ heads. Knowledge needs a framework of meaning. It needs to be more than just “useful.” It needs to be humanizing. Facts are valuable. What the facts mean is even more valuable. And teaching students how to reason intelligently for themselves, guided by a properly formed moral character and love for the common good, is the most valuable gift of all.
This is the heart of a Catholic education. The Church gave birth to the idea of the university. Catholic philosophers, scientists, and educators rank among the greatest in history. This is to be expected. For Catholics, faith and reason have always needed each other. As our Holy Father of happy memory, Pope John Paul II, often said, they naturally reinforce each other. Thus, educating the whole person — mind, body, and spirit — has a very long heritage in Catholic schools. In fact, Catholic schools are often alone today in understanding what a “whole person” truly is in the context of being truly human. A citizen with a stunted spiritual life has been robbed of part of his or her humanity. And the public square has lost that citizen’s ability to fully contribute to the moral life of the community.
I could tell you that St. Peter Catholic School offers a great academic formation, and that our teachers make great personal sacrifices to do it. That would certainly be true. It does. I could also tell you that our parish school works very hard to instill in students a sense of mutual respect, civility and discipline sometimes lacking in other schools. That would also be true. But our parish school does not exist to compete with public schools or offer a good “private” education. In fact, that is a bad reason to consider a genuinely Catholic education.
Our parish school exists to form young people in a love for Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith. It follows that religion — even more than math or science or English or history, as vital as they are — should be the most important subject matter in our classrooms. In a Catholic school, the Catholic faith should be the backbone of every other field of study. A friend of mine has the words “to Jesus through math” emblazoned in her classroom, and she is exactly right.
Of course, learning about God can never excuse a lack of academic excellence in any other subject. Just the opposite. Knowledge of the world, and the adult achievements that come from a great education, are tremendous ways of giving glory to God. But to be fully human, to be fully alive, excellence in mind must be matched by excellence in soul, conscience, character, and personal virtue. Otherwise, our parish school will create thousands of very fine technicians and specialists — but not fully rounded human beings, and not a truly educated public.
We know that Catholic education cannot be done by the disaffected or lukewarm. It is for people who have a fire in their heart for God; who love the Church and her teachings; who want to be a lion for the lord and not a housecat. It’s for missionaries and soldiers of mercy, justice, and truth. It’s for souls who see their own suffering as a small price to pay, to be part of God’s great work of redemption. The “good news of great joy” is that the hardest victory is already won. Christ has opened the door to new life. Our call is to follow Him and lead others to Him.
Our school deserves the support of our whole parish family because it belongs to and serves all of us. It serves as a guarantee of our future as a believing people. Many of tomorrow’s priests, religious, and Catholic lay leaders are studying in our classrooms today. They need your prayers and your generous support. It is really very simple. If we want an educated, committed, faithful Catholic parish here at St. Peter’s in the future, we need to ensure that by supporting the character and excellence of our parish school today.