September 06, 2017

Removing Catholic school’s statues may be necessary

By Dr. Dan Guernsey *
Credit: Pexels
Credit: Pexels

San Domenico School in San Anselmo, Calif., has voluntarily chosen to remove or relocate most of its Christian statues and artwork to appease non-Catholic students. Many Catholics are horrified, but sometimes it’s entirely appropriate for a Catholic school to remove all Catholic imagery. Like when it’s being decommissioned as Catholic – which is precisely what ought to happen in this case.

When the Catholic Church decommissions a church building, the adornments are properly disposed of and, hopefully, sent on to other parishes that are still able to fulfill their mission. And when a formerly Catholic school converts to a government-funded charter school, all Catholic imagery is removed before the new school opens.

Clearly San Domenico’s Catholic identity has been in decline for some time. Its mission statement could belong to any secular school: “preparing the next generation of global leaders… [and] to uphold the values of study, reflection, service and community.” If San Domenico finds that not enough Catholics are willing to spend $42,825 for a year of high school, it can keep most of its current mission and curriculum and transition to a public charter school without a hitch. 

The philosophy animating the school doesn’t seem to reflect Christian anthropology or metaphysics. The school’s director of philosophy, ethics and world religions told the Marin Independent Journal, “The Dominican teaching philosophy is not to teach there is only one truth.” Surely the great Dominican theologian, Saint Thomas Aquinas, would disagree!

Even before the recent news of San Domenico’s purge of Christian imagery, the school had removed Christian references from its very extensive website. The words “Jesus” or “Christ” or “Church” are noticeably absent. The word “Catholic” appears a couple times.

In order to appreciate how far San Domenico has strayed from its mission, it’s important to understand the nature and goals of Catholic education. Catholic schools exist to help people get to heaven. This involves teaching knowledge and skills and orienting young people toward service of the common good here below, but these are means to a greater end.

In 1939, Pope Pius XI put it this way: The purpose of Catholic education is “securing the Supreme Good, that is, God, for the souls of those who are being educated, and the maximum of well-being possible here below for human society.”

It isn’t up to Catholic schools to come up with their own mission; they must fulfill this mission given them by the Catholic Church. Any Catholic school intent on doing something other than faithfully executing its commission from the Church should have the honesty to be decommissioned as Catholic.

The removal of the Christian statues and other artwork at San Domenico is but one of several signs that decommissioning is natural at this point. Now that the school has been largely sanitized of Jesus’ image and name, it is safe to remove the designation of “Catholic” from the school. Thus, the decommissioning can be complete.

Dr. Dan Guernsey is director of the Cardinal Newman Society’s K-12 programs and principal of Rhodora J. Donahue Academy of Ave Maria. He earned a Bachelor’s degree at USF and Masters degrees from UC Berkeley and CSU Fresno. He completed his Doctorate in Education at Eastern Michigan University.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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