Today’s guest bloggers are Fr. Ronny O’Dwyer of SLU and Kristin Melley of BC for the Catholic School Matters podcast series on Educating Together in Catholic Schools: A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful, the 2007 Vatican Document from the Congregation for Catholic Education. The podcast conversationbetween Dr. Tim Uhl and Kristin Melley, the Director of Professional Development at the Roche Center for Catholic Education at Boston College.
This open letter to parents of young children is inspired by the 2007 Vatican document, Educating Together in Catholic Schools, which outlines a vision of community that we believe is sorely needed by children and families living in today’s digital neighborhood.
Dear parents of the young Church,
Congratulations on your promotion to primary educator of your newborn child! You are soon to engage curious conversations, life-lessons, spills, do-overs, reviews and report cards to guide the process of educating your son or daughter. This endeavor is best not done in isolation, rather in community. Choosing that community is a huge part of your task. To assist you in this decision, we invite you to consider Catholic schools.
As a theological concept, the Catholic school community derives its meaning from the Latin word communio—comprised of com “together” and unus “oneness” or “union.” The mission of Catholic education is to form the person “in unity of his/her being”, to engage the whole child in their quest to become missionary disciples. This requires intentional community, offering young people the “criteria of judgement, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life” (§ 13).
A Catholic school models its community on the teachings of Jesus, not in a vague philosophical way, but in very real terms. Last Thanksgiving, the custodian of a Catholic elementary school in Boston was paged to the school auditorium. Putting aside his dust broom, he made his way across the building to find the entire school assembled and anticipating his arrival. They stood and cheered as the principal directed him to the front podium. He was presented with notes and cards of gratitude from every classroom. The community celebrated the man with the dirtiest, hardest job and the students received a timeless lesson from God’s Spirit—honor the dignity of all persons. The moment was a lived-out parable, reminding us that the heart of community is connection to the least and to all.
Catholic schools function as local manifestations of the Church universal. They are bridges of meaning that link students’ learning to the ambitions vision of life set forth in the Gospels. Classroom lessons are not for personal growth alone; they aim to cultivate future saints who dream of a world as God intended. Speaking to the Association of Catholic School Parents in 2015, Pope Francis praised Catholic schools for their commitment to community: “Building bridges: there is no nobler challenge! Building union where division is advancing, generating harmony when the logic of exclusion and marginalization seems to have the upper hand.” Children who find meaning in food drives and nursing home visits become adults who challenge injustice, increase equity, and build highways of union and harmony.
As families seek to balance “screen time” and dinner conversation, the Catholic educational vision models the values of togetherness and presence. Students are invited to look outward and upward, beyond themselves, to discover God present in ordinary human realities. Studies today only confirm that many adolescents find virtual connections vacuous, which often contributes to increased isolation and depression (Twenge, 2017). Catholic schools offer an alternative: vibrant community that affirms students’ uniqueness and their sense of belonging, helping them discover their place in the world—with, for, and among others.
The integrated vision of faith, education, and community offered in Educating Together in Catholic Schools is both a gift and a task. It challenges our imagination by inviting us to invest in a vision of Christian community where everyone has a place. This is indeed a model of Church worthy of the children who inherit the promise.