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September 04, 2013
Catholic Education
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

Once again, the new school year is in session. Once again, a quality education for our youth claims center stage for solicitous parents and dedicated teachers. The word education, from the Latin, educere, means to lead out. Education is a journey intended to lead students out of darkness in to the light.

The Judeo-Christian view of education is based on Genesis 1:26 that esteems man and woman as replicas or mirrors of God. Brokenness did not destroy their original vocation.Through their efforts and talents, they not only glorify God but also participate in the divine creativity, as the parable of the same name admonishes. Theirs is the vocation to build up and not to tear down. Every human person abides most intensively within oneself and lives facing the universe.

Jesus the Teacher

Jesus was most often seen as a teacher,“the truth and the wisdom of God. He gave his disciples the mandate to go out, teaching them all that he had taught them (Mt 28:19-20). The student is the central focus of Catholic education, and a number of images describe the individual sitting in classrooms awaiting the educere of education. He is a temple of God. She is an icon of God; an unfinished symphony. Each is a garden of budding flowers. All are works of art in the making. The teacher is the essential mover who opens up new possibilities for those under his or her care.

What Is Catholic Education?

Catholic education is a thing of beauty. Its vision encompasses all that is human, the teaching of academic subjects—humanities (reading and writing, and public speaking), the sciences, and the arts. Catholic education proclaims orthodox catechesis or theology, proclaiming the Catholic faith, and the value of contemplating beauty, truth, goodness.

While sharing many insights and methods with other educational systems, Catholic education rejects any ideology that sacrifices eternal values to the temporal. It molds the student for the present and the future. Permeated with Judeo-Christian principles, Catholic education builds conscience and character. There is such a thing as a Catholic sensibility, a Catholic way of thinking, a Catholic way of doing things. The public square has not yet abandoned the expectation that Catholics, by their engagement in it, will also share that sensibility. Catholic education prompts its graduates to serve others and to build up the culture. To fail in this vision is to offer an incomplete Catholic education.

Catholic Education and Learning for Life

A liberal arts education makes learning a cherished pursuit even when the process is a steep climb. The discipline of study—yes, it is academic asceticism, is a thrilling ascent to the world of ideas. And ideas shape the world. The life-long student is well-aware of his or her progress, and this determination brings with it its own reward. To follow St. Thomas Aquinas’ line of thinking: education is a lifelong process of self-activity, self-direction, and self-realization that respects the child’s personal integrity and freedom while providing for necessary adult guidance. By their gracious manner, our graduates evoke respect, even admiration. At a time when mediocrity is the norm, their pursuit of excellence seeks even higher ground to the level of "a Renaissance man or woman," one that can elicit skeptical smiles, but one that has also regained its place as a highly-prized attribute in the public domain.

“I Gotta Be Me”

In the late '60s, Sammy Davis Jr. popularized the song, “I Gotta Be Me.” The title reinforced what had already become a rallying cry for, and defense of, liberal individuality, especially among college-age students. In the fourth century, St. Gregory of Nyssa anticipated these lyrics with unapologetic and succinct wisdom: “I have to become me, and that me has to become God. When I am not like God, I am not me. I have to let the real me shine through.”

To paraphrase Nyssa from his Life of Moses, we know that anything placed in a world of change never remains the same but is always passing from one state to another. Whatever is subject to change is always coming to birth. We are to a degree our own parents giving birth to ourselves by our own free choice to become whatever we wish to be, molding ourselves to virtue or vice. Becoming parents of our own very selves is the most creative activity of the human person, for we know instinctively that “we are God’s works of art” (Eph 2:10).

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is [email protected].
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