Washington D.C., Feb 2, 2018 / 05:00 am America/Denver (CNA).
Dr. Tom Burnford, president and CEO of the National Catholic Educational Association, spoke to CNA’s Jonah McKeown during Catholic Schools Week 2018 about his Catholic education and the evangelizing mission of Catholic schools in the United States.
How did your own Catholic education lead you to work in this field?
I was blessed to attend Catholic primary school in England, where I grew up: St. Joseph's in Storrington, in Sussex. And then I also went to Catholic high school: Ampleforth College in Yorkshire. My experience was a rigorous academic curriculum, and a study of the Catholic faith with a particular focus on scripture, and also living at the high school, a boarding school, in a community permeated by the gospel spirit. For me, the witness of the teachers, some of whom were Benedictine monks, others were lay people...they witnessed a Catholic faith that made me believe what they said when they talked about their Catholicism and their faith. Secondly, there were rigorous academic expectations, which led me to work hard and grow. And now I love Catholic schools because they integrate faith and knowledge in the life of the student and the adult.
How has the shift toward more lay teachers, rather than teachers who are members of a religious order, changed Catholic education in the U.S.?
Catholic schools in the United States were founded on the work of religious brothers and sisters, and today the staffing of schools, as we know, is predominantly lay teachers, lay faculty, and lay principals. However, it is the same faith that moves teachers today to teach in a Catholic school, and to do this work of integrating knowledge in the life of the student. What can be difficult is that in the past, the sisters were in a religious community setting 24 hours a day, focused on the school. And therefore we seek new and fresh formation opportunities for teachers, particularly as the society around us changes and becomes less faith-filled. So many diocese are doing great work in faith-formation programs, many colleges and universities do great work in helping to form teachers and leaders who can do this critical work of integrating faith and knowledge in education.