Students, Families and Evangelization in Catholic Schools

by Joseph D. White, Ph.D., Associate Publisher, Catechetical Resources, [email protected]

Evangelization is a primary function of Catholic schools. Although they provide quality education in a variety of subject areas, as agents of the Church, they share the larger mission of the Church – forming disciples of Jesus Christ. Catholic schools should, and must, be more than academically excellent private schools that also happen to have religion classes. Speaking about the role of the Catholic school, the Vatican II Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum Educationis states, “But its proper function is to create for the school community a special atmosphere animated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity, to help youth grow according to the new creatures they were made through baptism as they develop their own personalities, and finally to order the whole of human culture to the news of salvation so that the knowledge the students gradually acquire of the world, life and man is illumined by faith” (8). A key role of the Catholic school, then, is as an agent of evangelization.


Catholic Schools Evangelize the Student

Providing religious education is a key priority in the Catholic school. But religious education must be different than education in mathematics, science, history, or other subjects. If our objective is to form disciples, the Catholic Faith cannot be simply approached intellectually. Religious education in the Catholic school must be an immersive and formative experience that begins with an encounter with Jesus Christ through the proclamation of the kerygma

Knowing Jesus is different from simply “knowing about” him. As we draw closer to Jesus, our lives are changed – we find the joy of becoming who we were made to be, we are challenged, and we are called to placed we might have never gone before. A Christocentric catechesis – one that focuses on the person of Jesus Christ – facilitates an environment in which learners can get to know Jesus and draw closer to him.

Schools also help students encounter Christ and experience his Church through the unique Christian community of the school. One of the great gifts of Catholic schools – an aspect of Catholic education that many people cite as life-changing for them —  is the way in which Catholic schools socialize their students work together, to be accountable to a community, to have self-discipline and take personal responsibility. When we not only demonstrate these lessons in our school rules and norms, but also articulate them with respect to promoting the common good, we offer our students the opportunity to cultivate habits and virtues that will help them live lives of discipleship.


Catholic Schools Evangelize the Family

Catholic schools are in a unique position to evangelize families. Families in the United States today are more disconnected than ever before from their extended families and the larger community. We live in an increasingly mobile society, and people are less likely to live near extended family. Recent sociological research indicates that on average, adults in the US have half as many close friends as they did just ten years ago. All of this means that families are searching for community and connection. When Catholic schools make intentional efforts to become that community – the extended family that many people are looking for — they not only have better retention of students, they also become a powerful witness of Christian community.


Catholic Schools Prepare Students and Families to Evangelize the Community

Intentional discipleship is characterized by a life in mission. As we grow as followers of Jesus, we naturally share who we are and what we believe, both in word and in action. Through service to our families, our local parish, and the community around us, with particular attention to the poor and vulnerable, we imitate Christ’s love and service. As we allow the Holy Spirit to transform our lives, we discover God’s call, and we recognize and use the gifts God has given us.

Catholic schools offer so many gifts to the students, families and communities they serve. But the greatest gift of the Catholic school is the way it spreads the Good News of Jesus Christ and his Church. As the fathers of the Second Vatican Council so beautifully express it, when Catholic schools excel in this task, they help students grow “to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ and strive for the growth of the Mystical Body; moreover, that aware of their calling, they learn not only how to bear witness to the hope that is in them but also how to help in the Christian formation of the world that takes place when natural powers viewed in the full consideration of man redeemed by Christ contribute to the good of the whole society” (Gravissimum Educationis, 2).