Missionary Disciples: Empowering Parents and Educators to Collaborate

The Dual Purpose of Catholic Schools, Part III

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

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.

In the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools, Second Edition (NSBECS), Catholic school educators are called on to engage in missionary discipleship. Thinking of the role of Catholic school educators in this way is not necessarily different than what one would find in the Vatican II Declaration on Christian Education (Gravissimum Educationis). However, the term “missionary discipleship” likely sounds new to us. In the Glossary of the NSBECS, missionary discipleship is defined as a two-step process.

First, as missionary disciples, we are called to learn from the Master Teacher, Jesus. There are multiple ways to learn from Jesus what it means to be a missionary disciple in a Catholic school. For example, through meditative prayer and listening, through listening to the Word proclaimed and explained at Mass and through talking with other Catholic school educators seeking to learn from Jesus.

Second, as missionary disciples, we experience being sent out by Jesus to share the Good News he offers us and to share how this Good News is changing us and helping us. We can have a spiritual sense of being sent by Jesus to teach and assist children and young people, but the fullest sense of being sent is realized when we are sent on mission within a ceremony or ritual by a person representing Jesus.

When I was a high school principal, we had a ceremony for new teachers in which they were missioned to teach in our school. A veteran faculty member would participate in the missioning ceremony and give a medal to the new teacher to signify their new mission to teach and to share the Good News of Jesus with their students. When faculty decided to move on from our school, we also had a missioning ceremony to send them to their next opportunity of ministering. The faculty found these experiences to be very meaningful and I suggest Catholic schools adopt a similar practice to focus faculty on the new emphasis in NSBECS on Catholic school educators as missionary disciples.  

In addition to learning from Jesus and being sent to educate by a representative of Jesus, I believe the second key piece of realizing what it means to be missionary disciples to our students and families is to invite parents to fully realize their role as the primary educators of their children. At times, it can feel like parents are expecting educators to take on some aspects of the parenting role. Gravissimum Educationis reminds us that the education of children is a collaborative effort between parents and educators. The way this collaborative effort is realized changes due to differences of time and place, but I think Catholic school educators are being called on to engage with parents in more consistent and intentional ways as we all work together to engage in a discipling form of education.

I am interested in hearing how you are engaging in missionary discipleship at your school, including ways you are engaging parents. I look forward to hearing about your efforts at [email protected].

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