A number of months ago, I entered into a conversation with a work colleague. We began speaking about the lack of Church attendance on Sundays among those fifty years of age and younger. We were not deliberating on causes or seeking solutions, we were just making observations about the ‘greying’ of Church congregations. One comment that my colleague made took me quite aback. He spoke about his eighty seven year old mother, and how she prays each day for the world; and he said to me: “You know my mother and all her friends, they pray each morning and night, for good to triumph over evil; but who will pray for this world when these people die out?”
- Dr. Kania: The Blind Side (cf. Matthew 18: 1 – 6)
- Dr. Kania: Joys and Sufferings
- Dr. Kania: Simplicity (cf. Matthew 11: 25, NRSV)
His comment was indeed profound; for it takes both a solid and living Faith as well as a great deal of commitment to keep petitioning God for altruistic goals. We ended our discussion by reflecting on the singular issue – that in a world increasingly filled with materialism and self-interest, from what source will the next generation of committed Christians come from? One hopes that if this renaissance does not come from within our families – that is the domestic church, then our extensive school system and educational network, may stimulate in the hearts, minds and souls of the younger generation, a love of God, and a commitment to the Church. But even here, there would seem to be more than a few particular areas for concern; for our Education system is itself stepping over the threshold to a strange new world.
should we not envisage that one day there will come a time, possibly sooner than we may expect, when in the majority of cases those who lead our schools, and those who teach in our schools are neither committed to the Church (beyond being employed by the Church institution) or perhaps may not be even Catholic or Christian at all.
At a recent meeting of Identity leaders in Catholic Schools an interesting point of discussion was raised. The question was this: the Catholic Education system in Australia is one of the most extensively developed that the Church has in the world. In Australia, our schools are monuments to the vision of our predecessors and now easily rank among the most lauded educational institutions in the nation. One need only look at the political, sporting and business leaders of our nation to often see in their past a Catholic School background. However, with the ever dwindling numbers of adults belonging to, and active in the life of a parish; should we not envisage that one day there will come a time, possibly sooner than we may expect, when in the majority of cases those who lead our schools, and those who teach in our schools are neither committed to the Church (beyond being employed by the Church institution) or perhaps may not be even Catholic or Christian at all. Certainly these individuals may be committed to the educational institution, as a business person may be interested in the success of his or her corporation; but as to membership and participation in Church life, would this indeed matter? Let me stress to the reader that this was not merely a hypothetical discussion; it was a critical and very real discussion; that went on long into the night, with participants to the discussion arguing cases strongly on many sides.
Before I continue, I wish to qualify, that many of the finest educators in our schools, do not come from a Catholic background; in fact it has been my experience that some of the most respectful educators of the Catholic Tradition, within the Catholic School network, belong to churches and religious faiths outside the Catholic Church. The colleague that I had the discussion with in the opening vignette about his mother’s prayer life, is a non-Catholic Christian. I am not speaking in this article about such people. I am speaking of educational institutions made soulless by educators who have no time for the spiritual goals and life of the Catholic Church. That is the serious distinction. I am also not speaking about non-Catholic students in Catholic Schools, who ironically, more often than not, show far greater reverence and respect for the Catholic Traditions of our Schools, then many of the nominal Catholic population.
The reality of the situation is, that it is far easier to envisage the Catholic School achieving its educational goals rather than its evangelizing goals, for reasons that are all too painfully clear.
So let me put forward this question: when we speak of the Catholic School today: do we speak solely of a place of high educational outcomes, or of a place that primarily helps the Universal Church in its role of evangelization? Or do we speak of the Catholic School, simultaneously as both, which in fact is the most desirous of outcomes? The reality of the situation is, that it is far easier to envisage the Catholic School achieving its educational goals rather than its evangelizing goals, for reasons that are all too painfully clear.
If one attends the Sunday Liturgy regularly, at least in most parishes in Australia, one can understand that the prospective gene pool to choose the next generation of committed Catholic educators, is very thin. Young Catholic workers are not in our churches. Concomitant to this problem, is that there is a steadily increasing demand of young people wishing to train to be future teachers and subsequently administrators in the Catholic Education system. But why would such people choose to do so, when these same people have no desire to participate actively in Catholic parish life?
I can recall one student, enrolled to study Early Childhood Teaching, who came to a class, the subject of which was the basic Principles of Catholic Education, wearing a tee-shirt, emblazoned on the front with: “Mum’s Little Slut”
Having taught at university level, I was continually amazed by the sizeable proportion of students enrolled in Education, who were not only un-Churched, but also anti-Church; but who nonetheless were still desirous of working in the Catholic Education system. I can recall one student, enrolled to study Early Childhood Teaching, who came to a class, the subject of which was the basic Principles of Catholic Education, wearing a tee-shirt, emblazoned on the front with: “Mum’s Little Slut”. Of course this young lady was the exception, but that she could not see in herself the discontinuity between the coarse content on her shirt and the course content she had enrolled to study, and the vocation she wished to embark upon; fascinated me. The proportion in class of those students who were active in parish life, near matched that low number that we see attending the Liturgy on a Sunday morning. For the rest, their ‘vocation’ to teach in a Catholic School was based on two factors: first, that the students were themselves a product of a Catholic School; second, that a Catholic School, as has been stated, was in fact a better employment option, with regard classroom discipline and pastoral care, then the Government system. Many of the students enrolled in the Teacher training course, believed they had a right to teach in a Catholic School, because they were products of this system, irrespective of now not, or if ever, believing in the tenets of the Church). But are either of these reasons – reason enough for participating in or perhaps leading in the future of Catholic Education? Well, if the low percentage of young adults now attending Sunday Liturgy is as many studies suggest, below ten per cent, short of closing our Schools down, how else are we to fill the future staff rooms, and provide teachers for our future students, if we do not draw on what is available? Schools need to be staffed, and perhaps it is better to staff them with people with little or no Faith, then not to staff them at all. Or is it? What becomes of our Identity – and the Mission of the School, if there is no one at the school living the Mission? Should parents who send their children to a Catholic School expect to have staff teaching their children, who are unequivocal in their support of the dogma of the Church? Do parents have a right to expect this? Does it matter? Or if we insist on such – are we by doing so, being completely unrealistic? There is another valid point for parents of prospective students in Catholic Schools to ask: if in fact we can not find active and intelligent Catholics who are also excellent educators – would you not rather have in their absence, intelligent and excellent educators who are atheists, rather than have prayerful, but moribund and poor educators for your child?
Many of the students enrolled in the Teacher training course, believed they had a right to teach in a Catholic School, because they were products of this system, irrespective of now not, or if ever, believing in the tenets of the Church).
The quandaries that I am putting forward are not new, nor is the Church as naïve as many may think; for the Church saw this predicament on the horizon a good while ago; hence Teaching Colleges and Catholic universities were established in order to circumvent the upcoming crisis of Identity. It was hoped that by giving the prospective Catholic teachers of the future a sound background not only in pedagogy, and educational psychology, but also in Catholic doctrine and theology, that the Catholic teacher of the future would be able to fill the void left by those members of religious orders who were rapidly dwindling in number. These initiatives seemed to have been successful up to a point in time; for at their inception, decades ago, the Colleges and Universities educated young men and women who still had some attachment to parish life. Yet over time it has become starkly obvious that ensuing generations of prospective teachers, have become increasingly disconnected from Catholic parishes but yet the demand for teachers in Catholic Schools has become ever greater as the general population of our nation has increased, and demand for places in our schools grown alongside this demographic change. What we have been left with, is an increased demand to be an educator in a Catholic School, rather than the reality of employing a practising Catholic as an educator; quite an important distinction. We have been left also with a new paradigm in which ‘professionalism’ was placed to stand in opposition to ‘vocation’; as if to have a ‘vocation’ to be a teacher in a Catholic School was in some way not as profound as being a ‘professional’, or that the two elements of teaching could not happily co-exist within the same person. The germ for such a way of thinking was most likely concocted by how people perceived those ‘religious’ in Schools as being well-meaning, cute, but pedagogically inadequate creatures, whereas the modern educator in Catholic Schools is seen as being at the cutting edge of education, despite the fact that they may have no commitment to a parish; or may in some cases in fact stand, in some way, as a pseudo-silent edifice against the Church’s teachings; not voicing any opposition to the Church, but at the same time having no passion to promote Her Mission either. Yet even if we place some form of restriction on who may or may not be elevated to leadership positions according to active Church membership, what is to prevent an individual feigning a Road to Damascus experience, in order to procure and secure, a lucrative appointment? A person who believes in nothing – will certainly have no qualms in selling themselves for ‘anything’. In doing so, they are not hypocrites, for to them, all colours agree in the dark.
We have been left also with a new paradigm in which ‘professionalism’ was placed to stand in opposition to ‘vocation’; as if to have a ‘vocation’ to be a teacher in a Catholic School was in some way not as profound as being a ‘professional’, or that the two elements of teaching could not happily co-exist within the same person
It is worthwhile becoming acquainted with the Catholic Education Office of Western Australia document for the Strategic Direction (2013 – 2016), a document that specifically highlighted a number of significant issues already outlined, with regard to staff formation, and the changing demographic face of Catholic Education. Paramount and overriding was the document’s commitment to the preservation of Catholic Identity. In its Strategic Direction Number One – the document stated on Catholic Identity: “Research in this area has for some time heralded “societies marked by secularisation”. (Pontifical Council, 2004). The trend of Catholic schools worldwide is to voice reservations as to their ability to maintain a distinctively Catholic ethos in schools with significant non-Catholic populations, staff who are not Catholic and populations who are baptised but not practicing (Sullivan, 2001; McLaughlin et al, 1996; Hunter 1988). The Mandate Letter (2009, p.18) acknowledges “the challenges faced by our schools are not new in the Church‟s experience and require the pastoral response called “New evangelisation‟. In short it calls on schools “to help nurture faith in students with little or no interest in or experience of the Gospel and to help prepare them to face the faith challenges posed by contemporary Australian society … In addition, the Church views the important role of staff in Catholic schools as “competent, convinced and coherent educators, teachers of learning and of life” (ibid, para.14) and as such, the challenge for Catholic education is to build the capacity of staff so they are able to carry out this role. (Discussion Paper: Developing Strategic Directions for Catholic Education in Western Australia for the period 2013 to 2016, Strategic Direction One: Catholic Identity, p. 8).
Nowhere in the history of Catholic education has the search for academic, sporting or cultural excellence, ever precluded Catholic Identity – rather Catholic Identity has been, and hopefully will always be, the engine room for living life and the God-given talents given to us, to their fullest. Critical in this document is the continued formation of staff in the Catholic School, in order to help strengthen the School’s mission of evangelization.
With this in mind who will teach our children the Faith – when the time arrives when there are ever so few in our Schools with an active Faith left to teach?
St. Athanasius of Alexandria once commented about the knowing of, and declaring of Creeds that even Lucifer could stand up in a Church and with full voice announce what the Fathers at Nicaea were sculpting as True; for it is not knowledge that Lucifer lacks, but it is Faith in God, Hope in God and Love of God that Lucifer has not. In short, to some extent, this is the problem that we face in Catholic Education today. For if it is true that Faith is contagious, so it must also be true that atheism, religious ambivalence, and disbelief are also spread by contagion. With this in mind who will teach our children the Faith – when the time arrives when there are ever so few in our Schools with an active Faith left to teach? We can try and dupe ourselves that a certain amount of education and training, and a smattering of ‘acting-school’ can fill the void of an active Faith. But the child knows only too well whether the voice that speaks to them, comes from a heart that is burning and alive, or whether there is but a ‘party line’ being prattled, in order to check the boxes, and to justify our continued existence, as well as a receipt of a fortnightly pay-check. We must analyse carefully at what point in our schools and our places of higher learning, does that critical mass shift, so much so that educators become marionettes, moving mouths according to the dictate of the puppet master, but having no soul for the words actually being spoken.
 Another phenomenon which has appeared is the compartmentalization of staffing – where those staff who have a practising Faith, are promoted side-ways, possibly in order to fill the vacuum of ‘Faith’ positions, thus allowing those without an active ‘Faith’ to be elevated to leadership positions; the latter having secured the integrity of their leadership by the positioning of ‘Faith-filled’ middle-managers who lend credibility to the preservation of the Faith dimension of the Catholic Institution. In this way non practising or non-Catholic educators can be appointed to senior Academic posts in Catholic Institutions. Cynically speaking, the clear advantage of doing such, lies in the fact that active and practising Catholics can make an Institution uneasy if these individuals are promoted to leadership roles, and thus speak on social and moral issues. A politically correct face, allows for good marketing, in a religiously ambivalent society. In addition, Middle-managers who are ‘Faith-filled’ remain static in their careers, for CEO’s know that they cannot be easily replaced, for if they were, the precarious edifice may collapse.
Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania
This article was published in The Church and Life Newspaper, June 2019