Category Archives: Catholic School Matters

Guest Blogger: Sr. John Mary Fleming, OP

Thank you so much for the opportunity to chat about the documents on Catholic education from the Second Vatican Council and the Congregation for Catholic Education on the Catholic School Matters podcast.  I enjoy a conversational forum to discuss the documents of the Church and hope that it will spark discussion at the national, diocesan and local school levels.  Having a conversation about the importance and relevance of Church documents about Catholic education today is a vital part of our formation as Catholic educators.  For those of us teaching and serving in Catholic schools, the documents provide an anchor, a compass and refreshment.

Gravissimum Educationis or The Declaration on Christian Education is a rich starting point for this discussion as it gives 12 digestible statements about education in general and Christian education in particular.

No less than other schools does the Catholic school pursue cultural goals and the human formation of youth.  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 new of salvation so that the knowledge that he student gradually acquire of the world, life and man is illumined by faith.  (GE, 8)

In addition to describing the core identity and mission of Catholic education, the document addresses relevant topics such as the critical roles of parents, the Church, and the state.  It speaks about the unique role of Christian education in the formation of the human person.  Introducing young people to the person of Jesus Christ in the setting of the Catholic school community provides a totally integrated approach to education as formation.  The document speaks of the irreplaceable partnership with the Church community and families while recognizing the role of education in the common good.  These are all very timely topics in education in our country and world.

Another critical aspect of Catholic education, in paragraph 8 the document holds up the vocation of the teacher.  “Intimately linked in charity to one another and to their students and endowed with an apostolic spirit, may teachers by their life as much as by their instruction bear witness to Christ, the unique Teacher.” The importance of our teachers and their faith formation is critical to the success of the mission and purpose of our Catholic schools.  The document raises all of this up for our consideration and continued discussion.

May these podcasts spark a robust and fruitful discussion about the importance of Catholic schools in the educational life of young people in the Church and in our country!

Catholic School Matters Top 5

What do you do with new information that contradicts what you know?  Are you looking for that kind of information?  Last month, NCEA presented diocesan leaders with the results from a market research project.  (Podcast #80 revealed much of the information).  When we heard that Hispanic parents were more discriminating consumers, for instance, it was surprising.  For me, it caused me to think about how we are approaching our growing Hispanic population.  But for others, the discomfort was obvious and they began to question the methodology of the project.  “No parents were surveyed in our diocese,” they’d say.  Or, “My region of the country was left out.”

It echoed the comments Senator John McCain made at the Naval Academy last week: “We are asleep in our echo chambers, where our views are always affirmed, and information that contradicts them is always fake,” McCain said. “We are asleep in our polarized politics, which exaggerates our differences and looks for scapegoats instead of answers, and insist we get all our way all the time in a system of government based on compromise and principled cooperation and restraint.”  We have to seek out new information and when we hear something novel or contradictory, we have to examine it for its merits.  The question, again, is what do you do with new information that challenges your assumptions?

I don’t believe that we do enough to challenge their beliefs and assumptions.  In other words, we’re afraid to learn.  It’s natural.  We keep operating out of our practiced mental models.

Perhaps the problem is that new information is difficult to access.  To that end, I’m presenting a special issue focusing on this fall’s issue of the Journal of Catholic Education.  There is relevant information and I encourage everyone to find one article that interests you.  This is difficult stuff.  Trust me, I’m used to Internet reading where the articles are designed for shorter and shorter attention spans.  But we need to expand our zone of proximal development and read something that stretches our intellectual limits.  I started reading these articles and then discovered the special issue focusing on serving Hispanic students which I also recommend.

This week I’m publishing articles from the Journal of Catholic Education’s fall issue.  It’s often difficult to find applicable research.  My guess is that most of us don’t know where to look.  So I figured this was a good place to start.  Please recognize that for each of these links, you’ll have to push the “download” button to read the article.

My top 5:

  1. The opening address “Welcoming the Stranger” is especially apt for these difficult times.  Pope Francis talks about migrants (not immigrants or emigrants) and our common history of migration.   This is a great short opener and addresses two common themes in Catholic education today—how to become more accessible to students with disabilities AND Hispanic students.
  2. The study entitled “Who Do You Say You Are” is a great study of relationships within a Catholic school.  It’s inspired me to write something for next week’s blog.
  3. De Marillac Academy” is a great study of the teaching of grit and soft skills at an inner-city Catholic school.
  4. Providing Access for Students with Moderate Disabilities” is a great study of a successful professional development program at a typical Catholic school.  How do we get our teachers ready to serve in a more inclusive environment?
  5. A Content Analysis of Catholic School Written Discipline Policies” points out that Catholic school disciplinary policies are really not different from public school policies.  The need to infuse them with Catholic identity is paramount.

Have a great week!

Guest Blogger: Fr. John O’Malley

I really enjoyed talking with Tim about Vatican II on the Catholic School Matters podcast.  My fascination will the council began while I was writing my doctoral dissertation in history for Harvard University.  My subject was a church reformer active in Rome in the sixteenth century, which meant I had to go to Rome to do the research. When I arrived there in the fall of 1963, the council was just beginning its second year—and I was living just a quarter of a mile from Saint Peter’s.

I got tickets for the several big, public sessions of the council, and I managed to sneak into some of the press briefings held every afternoon.  I could hardly concentrate on my dissertation!  But I soon saw a relationship between what my sixteenth-century reformer was trying to do and what was going on in the council.  Thus, though my specialty was the sixteenth century, I began to teach courses also on Vatican II.  I published my first article in 1973, and I am still writing on it today.

The council is an extremely complex affair because it addressed so many issues.  Nonetheless, there is a simplicity about what it was trying to do, which I think the word “reconciliation” captures.  In other words, it made its own in a more explicit and emphatic way the mission of Christ, who came to reconcile the world to the Father.

We must remember that the council met after the bloodiest half-century in the history of the world, at a time when the threat of nuclear annihilation had for the first time in history become a possibility, and at a time when a Christian nation like Germany had committed to horror of the Holocaust. Wounds had to be held.  Working together was no longer a luxury but a dire necessity.

The council’s reconciling dynamic is revealed in the characteristic words in its vocabulary—brothers and sisters, cooperation, collegiality, partnership, friendship, dialogue, and so forth.  These are reconciling words, which lead to reconciling actions, such as joining in prayer with persons of other churches or even other religions and joining with others in working for the common good.

The council showed the same dynamic regarding marriage.  Before the council marriage was defined as a contract whose purpose was the procreation of children and providing a remedy for concupiscence.  The council defined it as a partnership in love.

I encourage you to listen to the Catholic School Matters podcast and join in the study of Church Documents.

Understanding Vatican II

To begin the Church Documents podcast series, I chose to start with Vatican II.  It’s important to note that more than half of US Catholics were born after Vatican II, a population which includes me.  However, I’m surprised to find younger teachers and staff members who cannot explain how Vatican II impacted the Church.  If we don’t study the council itself, we fall victim to the generalizations about the council (e.g. it led to a decrease in vocations).

In addition, if we’re going to study Church documents on Catholic education, we need to start here because each document in the last 50 years has been shaped by Vatican II.  That is why I decided to start the series with a podcast about the context of Vatican II.

When discussing Vatican II with Fr. John O’Malley, I was determined to ask about 5 areas of impact.  Fr. O’Malley presents a remarkably concise explanation for each.  My 20-minute conversation with Fr. O’Malley is piled with insights.

The 5 areas of impact:

  • Scripture: O’Malley discusses how Vatican II is a continuation of a movement that had already been boiling in the church.
  • Salvation outside the Church: Fr. O’Malley rightfully brings up the changing perception of salvation and the Catholic Church’s role.
  • Liturgy: Fr. O’Malley discusses the way the Mass looked before the Council and the ways it changed as a result of Vatican II.
  • Engagement with the World: Fr. O’Malley discusses the loss of the “fortress” model and the Church’s desire for aggiornamento
  • Religious Orders & Vocations: O’Malley discusses the vocation crisis and reasons for it. In addition, Fr. O’Malley discusses how the approach to vocations changed.

Fr. O’Malley also has a way of connecting historical trends, previous councils, and other trends to explain the message and impact of the Council.  In this book What Happened at Vatican II, he points out the language of Vatican II marked a significant departure and shaped the way Church documents were formulated.

Perhaps the part of the conversation that spoke to me the loudest was his line that “Vatican II gave the Church, and the papacy, a new job description.”  He goes on to explain that the pope was now being called to be an agent of reconciliation and find ways to work with all people in order to alleviate suffering through wars, famines, persecutions, and the like.  More than his other comments, this one speaks to how we perceive the pope as no longer as head of state but certainly more than a figurehead.

I encourage you to listen to the conversation and subscribe to the Catholic School Matters podcast so you can learn with me as we read our way through Church documents on Catholic education.

Catholic School Matters Top 5

I’m launching the Church Documents podcast series and I blog about that AND I included a video preview of the series. I hope you consider joining us on this 13 week learning journey.

Fresh off the Catholic Leadership Summit, I’m developing some new themes for the next few months. I’d like to spotlight a few articles from this week’s newsletter that support these new ideas:

1. The first article in the American Catholic news section talks about the successes of the Josephinum School in Chicago. It’s a great example of finding the positives in your school and crafting your own story. If you don’t tell it, someone else will!

2. The second story comes from Missoula, Montana. Loyola Sacred Heart High School’s service program is featured. We heard last week that community service programs are an important factor for Catholic parents. Articulating the kinds of programs and the benefits to the community will drive enrollment.

3. I’ve heard about just war more in the last two months than in the last two years. I think it’s partly because many people are worried about the outbreak of war. But I’ve also heard it crop up in relation to Pope Francis’s recent condemnation of the death penalty. I’ve included two articles about the “battle over just war.” The market research testifies to a lack of clarity about what exactly the Church teaches. This is an area deserving of our attention.

4. To that same end, US Catholic offered a couple of great articles for your reflection. The first on the “culture of winning” explores whether that idea syncs with our Gospel values. The second takes on the tax cut proposal and whether that can be supported by Catholic teaching.

5. The first article in the leadership section explores the benefits of solitude. Harry Kraemer, the keynote speaker at the CLS (who I also featured on the podcast), spoke of the value of reflection. This article highlights the value of spending time alone.

Have a great week!




Episode 080: Catholic Schools Market Research – Jennifer Robbins

Dr. Tim Uhl, superintendent of Montana Catholic Schools, interviews thought leaders in Catholic education and discusses the future of Catholic schools in America.

Jennifer Robbins, the CEO of Mayhill Strategies, joins Dr. Tim Uhl on the Catholic School Matters podcast from NCEA’s Catholic Leadership Summit in Tempe to reveal the findings of the nation-wide market research study which she conducted over the past two years.

There is both a need and an opportunity for Catholic schools to fill a void.

“A curriculum today focused on religious instruction alone does not drive parents consideration of school today… Catholic schools traditionally are not known for promoting themselves or talking about all of the wonderful things they offer…” states Jennifer Robbins. While this podcast will not cover the entire presentation, it will answer the questions of “What do people think about Catholic schools?” and  “What do our parents want?”

To listen to this podcast featuring nine significant takeaways from the Market Research Study, please click here.

This marketing research push marks a willingness to confront the brutal facts and realities of our Catholic schools.  The challenge has been issued to Catholic schools to understand their customers, for schools to understand their situations, etc.  Like Pope Francis who wants leaders “smelling like the sheep,” this marketing research should put us out into the margins.

Guest Blog: Dr. Kevin Baxter on California Dreamin’

Dr. Kevin Baxter, the superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, wrote the following blog in response to Kimberly Cheng’s conversation with Dr. Tim Uhl on the Catholic School Matters podcast:

Kimberly did a great job on the podcast communicating how our state superintendent group operates, even with Tim’s gratuitous crack about my age!  Our advocacy and communication about key issues facing Catholic schools in California is fundamental to our group.

One important aspect of our collaboration that I want to highlight is our emotional support of one another. One thing that becomes clear to you when you become a superintendent is that you don’t really have anyone locally with whom to share your struggles and frustrations. When you are a teacher or a principal there are peers available that can help guide you and talk you off the ledge when things aren’t going well. As a superintendent it isn’t as easy to find that local peer to share your troubles.

The CCSS (California Catholic School Superintendents) is a group that provides that emotional support and gives a forum for open, honest sharing about the successes we experience, as well as those frustrations that can be occur all too frequently. It is literally one of the best aspects of being a superintendent in California and I couldn’t imagine doing the job without the support and friendship of my other 11 peers.

Link to the document referenced in the podcast: Our Catholic Schools in California: A Stellar Past, A Robust Future


Catholic School Matters Top Five

Today I’m offering a special edition of Catholic School Matters. This issue focuses on the fall issue of Momentum (NCEA’s quarterly magazine) which will be mailed out this week to NCEA members. I’d like to make sure that every Catholic school teacher, administrator, and parent can see the great content contained in this issue of Momentum.

There are some fantastic articles in this issue:


Catholic School Matters Top 5

In today’s newsletter I have written about a new way of thinking about anthem protests at Catholic schools.  Instead of thinking about them as an “us versus them” bifurcated approach, I found language in the Vatican’s most recent statement on Catholic school which challenges our concept of community.

My top 5:

  1. This week in Montana, we’re welcoming back Roy Petitfils, the counselor/speaker who will speak all of our teachers & administrators about anxiety. Need a primer?  Check out the first article in the Miscellany section about anxiety, teenagers, and smartphones.  It should open your eyes!
  2. The first article in the American Catholic News section has a Crux interview with the President of Catholic U. He talks about echo chambers and the role of dialogue.
  3. The first article in the Leadership section “You Need to Be in Touch with the People You Lead” explores what it means to be a leader.
  4. In the Teaching & Instruction section, the first article is an examination of retrieval practices. Make sure to watch the video.  It’s a fascinating compilation from Doug Lemov exploring how we learn and remember.
  5. The second article entitled “How to Work Smarter” is designed to assist teachers in this busy time of year.

Have a great week!

Educating Together in Catholic Schools

As I’ve watched the controversy swirl around football players kneeling during the national anthem, I was struck by the message of Educating Together in Catholic Schools (2007), the last Vatican document pertaining to Catholic education.  As you might know, I’ve been immersing myself in Church documents to prepare for the Church Documents podcast series beginning on October 30th.

Since Vatican II, the documents mark the shift from Catholic school as institution to one of community.  At the same time, Pope Francis has challenged us to become missionary disciples, evangelizing Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  This has brought challenges to our concept to community.  Do the mores and norms of the majority (often white, middle-class) dominate the school culture?  Do our alumni—many of whom are prominent donors—shape the norms and mores?  Frankly, many of our schools need to confront the fact that we celebrate minority athletes but believe they need to respect their place in the community.  Majority rules, minorities follow, in other words.

Educating Together confronts this reality:

The implementation of a real educational community, built on the foundation of shared projected values, represents a serious task that must be carried out by the Catholic school.  In this setting, the presence both of students and of teachers form different cultural and religious backgrounds requires an increased commitment of discernment and accompaniment. (paragraph 5)

In other words, when we admit students of different cultural and religious backgrounds, our community changes.  It’s like the arrival of a child.  If a daughter arrives in a family of sons, it changes the family.  As our schools become more diverse, the culture will change.  It is our job to accompany and discern those changes as we strive to educate and form young people.

Don’t know what I’m talking about?  Here’s a quick rundown:

Take a look at the reasoning behind the Camden Diocese’s position banning any protests:

Our schools are founded on the teaching of respect and honor; respect and honor for God, country and duly appointed authority. It is expected that our administration and coaches as well as our athletes will show respect during prayer, pledges and the playing or singing of the National Anthem. The best approach is helping our young people understand that blood was sacrificed so that we all can enjoy the gifts of our faith and our country.  However, let me be clear. We are not public institutions and free speech in all of its demonstrations, including protests, is not a guaranteed right.

Notice the mention of the non-guaranteed right of free speech. This is a consistent theme in private school law. But just because something is permitted doesn’t make it right.

Educating Together explains the type of education that must take place in Catholic schools. “The Catholic school is committed to guiding its students to knowing themselves, their attitudes and their interior resources, educating them in spending their lives responsibly as a daily response to God’s call.” (Paragraph 40) We want our students to develop a response to God’s call in their lives. And we want them to have courage in their convictions. Vatican II calls us to dialogue—a theme supported by Pope Francis in Joy of the Gospel. When one of the students at Lansing Catholic was told he would be suspended if he protested, this is how he responded:

I get they are a private school and they can do what they want, Lynn III said. They are right, they can. But that doesn’t make it humane and that does not make it OK that they can do that because that still is my right to peaceful protest. Not only am I peaceful protesting, but I’m protesting as a primary source. I am a young black man in America. I’ve had to deal with certain things that other people will never have to deal with.

I said this in the meeting (with the school). I said this feels like oppression. This feels like you’re trying to silence me and it feels like you’re not giving me the right to do what Americans should be able to do.

Does that sound like someone who has heard “God’s call”? Does that sound like someone who has developed convictions? And has courage? We should be proud of this young man for this well-articulated set of beliefs. And read this statement from the student protesters at Bellarmine High (CA):

We have chosen to kneel for the national anthem tonight in an act of peaceful protest against injustice. The act of kneeling during the anthem originated with sitting and progressed to kneeling as a sign of respect for our flag, as suggested by former Green Beret, Nate Boyer.

As students of a Jesuit institution, we are taught to be men for and with others and to seek justice and truth. In light of our summit on understanding race in the 21st century, along with our personal experiences with discrimination both at Bellarmine and in our broader community, we feel compelled to raise awareness for the marginalized.

These student convictions might fly in the face of community norms. But they are well thought out, well-articulated, and they challenge us to become more inclusive school communities. Part of educating young people is expecting them to occasionally divert from the path we would have chosen for them. We are called to dialogue with them, to challenge them to articulate their beliefs, and encourage them when they have shaped beliefs out of response to God’s call in their lives.