This past June, my family was in a state of panic. A niece, who is also a granddaughter, a goddaughter, and a great niece – was going into Grade 2.
With the fluctuating and rather unpredictable housing market in Vancouver, the young parents of the girl made their move in June and immediately looked into enrolling their daughter into their parish school.
Transferring to another Roman Catholic elementary school was not as simple as the parents had thought. Their daughter would be placed on a waiting list. If there was a place available, she would be admitted. Needless to say, the Catholic parents and the family were somewhat perplexed about the situation, especially when the girl was already transferring from a Roman Catholic elementary school, and the new Catholic school in which they sought enrolment was in their own parish.
The mother intervened asking the parish priest from the previous school for a reference letter. Aunts who were also nuns were contacted for prayers. An uncle also a priest was asked to write a supporting letter. The family did the best they could and hoped and prayed this little girl would be admitted into their parish school. It was inconceivable to send the little girl to a public school. The exasperated family could not make sense of the situation.
I gave it considerable thought myself. The procedures seemed quite normal: admission to Grade 2 would first be given to those who had already completed Grade 1 at the school, continuing to Grade 2. Then, a waiting list needed to be considered with other children and their families who also applied. I began to reflect on Catholic education and the role of parents.
Roman Catholic schools offer formal education in a religious context that is specifically Catholic. So, besides the subjects the children are studying, they are also being formed, guided, and directed in Catholic religious practices and/or beliefs shaping their spiritual and moral life. We can call this the formation of the person – not just the development of the intelligence.
While the family relies on the Catholic school for the child’s human formation, the school turns to the family to ensure Catholic values are nurtured in the home.
While the family relies on the Catholic school for the child’s human formation, the school turns to the family to ensure Catholic values are nurtured in the home – at least beliefs and values that are in harmony with the Catholic understanding of the person. In other words, both the parents/family and the school work together in shaping the fundamental human values of the child: God is the source of truth and love reflecting a divine order in the universe that cannot be violated.
This understanding of the person – inseparable from the Creator God sustainer of life from conception to natural death and a natural order willed by God – raises the question of “what” is learned in the home environment: to what extent are Catholic values of the person known and upheld? Who are the “educators” of the parents when the parents act as educators of their children?
If Roman Catholics attend Mass as they should each Sunday (many do not seem to know it’s a serious sin to miss Sunday Mass), the liturgical life, Scriptures, homilies, sacraments serve to keep the parents and children in communion with God and his Church, purified, enlightened and enriched in their life of faith.
However, if parents are not regularly attending Mass, or worse, if Mass attendance is reduced to the minimal of baptisms, weddings, funerals, and perhaps Christmas and Easter, the liturgical participation along with the instruction in Catholic teaching is deficient. The “true” educators become news broadcasts and the movie industry, social networks and music celebrities, local newspapers, and lobbyists shaping and teaching the beliefs of parents. So, how can Catholic parents serve as spiritual/moral guides to their children? Instead, influences in conflict with Catholicism – rejecting or dismissing Catholic teaching – can and do mislead Catholic parents.
As the child looks for guidance during periods of confusion, and as complex questions arise dealing with their personal formation, children should get answers from parents who are capable of distinguishing true from false, good from evil – answers coming from Catholic teaching and truth, which has its source in God.
Catholic schools fundamentally exist to offer children a Catholic formation.
Catholic schools fundamentally exist to offer children a Catholic formation in personal growth, spiritual, intellectual, and moral rooted in the teachings of Christ and his Church. Catholic schools are not designed for manipulation by lobbyists nor state control.
And so, yes, prudence in discernment is needed in admitting children to Catholic schools. As these children mature into adults, they will make their own choices, discerning between true and false, good and evil. They will be equipped to make proper judgments and enlightened decisions. Of course, many other factors come into play over the years besides family: education/educators, friends/relationships, and increasingly the media. The aim of Catholic education is that Christ and his teachings will always have a central place in the life of the individual.
When still in Grade 1 this little girl wanted a Bible, which she received as a gift for Christmas. I asked her to read to me the opening lines of Genesis and felt moved to hear her enunciated, syllable by syllable, the story of creation I had read and heard many times before.
In the middle of July, the parents found out their daughter was admitted to the Catholic school in their parish – the one to which they had applied. The family was overjoyed.
Bellusci is a Dominican priest and Assistant
Professor of Philosophy at Catholic Pacific
College in Langley.