Are We Keeping Our Promises?

The Dual Purpose of Catholic Schools, Part II

Written by Father Tom Simonds, SJ, NCEA Director of Secondary Engagement, [email protected]

In this series of three blog posts, Fr. Tom Simonds, SJ, discusses the dual purpose of Catholic schools. He also shares a new strategy to strengthen student faith formation in Catholic schools by engaging parents and parishes.

Catholic schools promise to provide excellent academic preparation and faith formation for students. Are we keeping our promise?

Faith Formation Check-Up

I encourage school leaders to do a faith formation check-up to determine how well their schools are keeping the promise and providing faith formation for every student. You can use the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Schools, Second Edition (NSBECS) to review the strength of your faith formation program. By reading through the NSBECS, you can identify specific standards and benchmarks you could use to evaluate your faith formation program, for example, Benchmarks 2.1, 3.1 and 3.3.

Another way to review the strength of your student faith formation program is to ask your stakeholders for feedback. For example, you could use the NCEA Rise Family of Assessments to assess the faith knowledge and practice of your students and faculty members. You could also invite parents and parish leaders to participate in focus groups to share their insights about the quality of student faith formation at your school. Additionally, you could hold exit interviews with graduates to ask them about their experiences of faith formation.

Faith Formation and Mission Alignment

Based on what you learn from the review process using NSBECS and stakeholder input, the next step would be to review your school’s mission statement. Consider if you need to make some changes to your mission statement so that it reflects a new way of engaging in quality student faith formation. I suggest using these three criteria to review your school’s mission statement:

  1. Does your mission statement set a concrete goal for student faith formation?
  2. Does your mission statement provide guidance for a student faith formation program?
  3. Does your student faith formation goal include the participation of family and parish leaders?

The table below provides a model for aligning a school goal for student faith formation as it is defined in the mission statement with curricular goals, strategies and a continuous improvement process. The example provided in the table is based on the three criteria for reviewing the quality of your mission statement as it touches on student faith formation.  

Text from Mission Statement

Alignment with NSBECS




“We provide opportunities for our students to hear and respond to Jesus’ call to discipleship” 2.1


  • Every student has an opportunity to learn about Jesus’ call to discipleship
  • Every student has an opportunity to discern how Jesus is calling them
  • Every student is supported in their efforts to respond to Jesus’ call to serve
  • Religious education curriculum includes a unit on Jesus’ call to discipleship
  • Religious education curriculum includes a unit on how to engage in discernment
  • Religious education curriculum provides time for students to reflect on their call to discipleship
  • Parents and parish leaders work with educators to help students learn about Jesus’ call to discipleship and to provide opportunities for students to respond to the call
  • Daily schedule provides opportunities for students to engage in prayer and participate in Mass at school, and when possible, in the parish
  • Develop strategies to assess each goal and strategy
  • Share assessment information and plan for continuous improvement

The key to a quality faith formation program is building Christian community in a school that supports students and families living the Catholic faith daily. Religious instruction provides an opportunity for students to want to learn and experience more through authentic encounters with Jesus which can lead to a discipling relationship with Jesus. Disciples are sent out by Jesus to help those in need. Quality faith formation programs in Catholic schools must be built on this complete faith formation model that focuses on missionary discipleship if we are to keep our promise and live out the Church’s mission of evangelization through Catholic education.

Working together to create a supportive Christian community in elementary schools, we can enable educators, parish leaders, older students and parents to live as Catholic Christians. We need to have a P-12 vision for faith formation that is also linked to adult living of the faith in the world and the Catholic parish.  

Read all parts of The Dual Purpose of Catholic Schools series: