Catholic schools must maintain a strong Catholic identity and mission if they are to help young people understand how to access truth in their lives, said Bishop David M. O’Connell of Trenton, N.J. on Oct. 3.
“The idea of Catholic identity is very simple,” he said. “A Catholic school derives its identity from Jesus Christ, from the Gospels, from the Church and its teachings – all of its teachings.”
Bishop O’Connell was the keynote speaker at a conference on “The Catholic Identity of Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools” at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
The invitational conference was sponsored by the Catholic University of America and St. John’s University.
Bishop O’Connell, who served as the president of Catholic University from 1998 to 2010, explained to his audience that identity and mission are two critical elements of Catholic education.
“Catholic education is not simply about values.”
Rather, it is about a vision that comes from Jesus Christ, he explained. This vision presents a different way of looking at the world.
It is up to Catholic educators to present this vision with passion, he said. “It’s how we do it that can make all the difference in the world.”
The bishop explained that the mission of evangelization is not one that is carried out simply in the classroom, but also in the everyday lives of the educators.
If teachers are successful in presenting the Catholic vision with a strong passion, they will not merely pass on information, but will change lives, he said.
Bishop O’Connell acknowledged that Catholic schools today face challenges in enrollment, staffing and finances.
He explained that these obstacles must be overcome with a strong sense of mission that flows from a clearly-understood Catholic identity.
Part of every Catholic school’s “call to excellence” is a call to be firmly rooted in Christ, the bishop explained.
“Our Catholic identity is who and what we are,” he said.
Bishop O’Connell also emphasized the role of administrators in Catholic education.
“It is the administrator in the Catholic school that must lead the charge,” he said.
In order to do this, administrators must understand and commit themselves to the idea of Catholic identity, he explained.
The bishop encouraged the conference participants to act as leaders in the field of Catholic education, striving for excellence and encouraging others to do the same.
“You are the leadership of Catholic education in our country,” he said.
He urged them to carry out their work with a “special zeal” that is authentic and courageous, while never being apologetic or ashamed of their faith.