Congratulations to Sr. John Mary Fleming, OP and Timothy Uhl for this informative, organized and engaging presentation on The Declaration of Christian Education on the Catholic School Matters podcast. It was a delight to revisit this beautiful document of 12 basic statements, situated within the time and context in which it was written; namely the post-Vatican II time of many changes, and see how it challenges us today to go more deeply into this living document and different aspects or issues that are part of Christian education. It speaks a powerful and ongoing message to all in Christian education, especially Catholic education.
Sister clearly and concisely addressed six themes as some of the most important in the document: 1) true education is aimed at formation; 2) all people have the right to education as part of the dignity of being human; 3) the importance of Christian education; 4) the duties and rights of parents; 5) the importance of formation; and 6) the role of a vibrant higher education Catholic community to develop the mind of the individual and encourage the vocation of teacher. The content and Sr. John Mary’s enthusiasm and contagious joy prompted me to go back and reread this document in light of these major themes to see where I personally need to take the document’s message to heart, and also as a director of our Catholic School Leadership Program at Marymount University in Arlington, VA integrate this into our preparation of future leaders. These are qualities that relate so well to Pope Francis’ “Joy of the Gospel” and provide a roadmap for solid evangelization through Catholic education.
Faith formation for the Catholic school teacher in order to witness to these Gospel values is most important to me and my own research. Sister mentioned “how do we approach formation?”. With the decline in the number of priest and religious brothers and sisters, the laity often lack the background in the faith afforded to priests and religious. How do we equip teachers in relation to questions of faith, prayer, sacraments, and building community? What support can we provide for them, not just in requiring religion certification but in motivating them to want to deepen their knowledge of the faith and come to know and develop a life-long loving relationship with Jesus? At the World Congress on Catholic Education, Pope Francis spoke of the importance of “the formation of the formators.” This should assist teachers in understanding the purpose and mission of the school and their own faith life. The old statement, “You cannot give what you do not have” reminds us that we must engage our teachers and motivate them to desire a deeper and more personal relationship with Christ, so that personally motivated and on fire with that deeper love, they will strive to teach the faith to students prompted by their own joy in the Lord. Jesus asked His disciples “Who do people say that I am?” and “who do you say that I am?” He invites them and us to know about Him and His teachings through the Church and to come to know and love Him as a Person who loves and gives meaning and life to all we do and are. This formation in Christ is the heart of our Catholic schools!