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Why Catholic Education?

May 17, 2011
Recently while I was working on a project called Enduring Gift: Catholic Education in Ontario I had the privilege of looking through some exceptional archival material. There were documents and images dating from the 1800’s to the present day. It was an interesting experience! I think, like most Catholic high school students I imbibed the values, but I still had only a vague sense of how it all came to be. I didn’t know “our story” and in a sense I didn’t realize that I was a part of enduring legacy. It was only later when I took a course at University of Toronto's St. Michael's College called Catholic Education Ontario, taught by Prof. Mark McGowan, that things turned a corner. I left his lectures with a sense of urgency about preserving this hard-won gift.
That flame was reignited again as I poured over the archive of handwritten notes from Bishops asking for prayers in regards to our hopes, school inspector reports, and countless images of children in classrooms, religious men and women, and Catholic associations all focused on getting Catholic education fully funded in Ontario. Certainly during those early days most Catholics needed to be ready to answer the question "Why Catholic Schools"? As time has passed however, I wonder if people could still answer this question with conviction?
As I worked through all the archival material, I ran across a good document written by John M. Bennett and likely distributed on behalf of the Metropolitan Separate School Board circa 1940-50s. I felt I'd share it with you. Its a blast from the past, but I feel that the points the author made 60 years ago are still as compelling as ever. The document begins:
A perusal of history proves beyond doubt that that Catholic parents in all ages have been very conscious of their responsibility to cooperate with Divine Grace to lead their children to God.
It continues, and here I've selected a few of my favourite reasons for faith-based schooling:
... Man’s noblest activity, the pursuit of knowledge, is beckoning him in our day to the outermost limits of the material universe. Schools are doing everything possible to train the intelligence to discover the mysteries of the material universe. Should not the school direct man’s noblest activity to seek knowledge to Him who created the Universe? It is a crime against the youth of any nation to limit his pursuit of knowledge in the schools to natural truth.
... That the aim of Christian education is to fit children for a dual citizenship not only as intelligent citizens of the nation but also as citizen’s of God’s kingdom. The Catholic school has the duty to co-operate with home and church in this work. The Public school cannot do this.
... If a child is to become a true Christian, thinking and acting as Christ wishes him to think and act, then all the conditions which surround the child during his/her development must correspond well with this aim.
... That every baptized child has not only a natural life which grows, due to food and rest and exercise but also has a real supernatural life by which by the wonderful gifts of Faith, and trust in, and love of God grow in the soul by the grace of God as a result of prayer and the sacraments. The school cannot be indifferent to this responsibility of parents. The school must be an extension of the home in this work.
... That the mind of man was made for truth, not only for natural truth (mathematical, scientific, geographical, etc) but definitely also for supernatural truth (God and His attributes, creation, man’s origins and end, God’s laws, Redemption and so on). Surely one must concede that the school is needed by the home to assure this learning of the supernatural.
... That Catholic parents will (1) never concede that their children belong absolutely to the state, and (2) that they have no right to choose the teachers and schools they wish for their children.
... That true Education means the methodical reformation of children to conform them to Christ, to His teachings, counsels and example. This is the aim of Christian education fostered by home and Church.
We could all use a little reminder of the why from time to time. Otherwise we run the risk of not differentiating ourselves from the public schools, and simply duplicating what they are doing. Christ is at the centre of all of our endeavours, especially education. To know and love Christ is our life's task as students; and, as parents it is an enduring gift to our children.
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Photo courtesy of the Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto.
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