Five marks of a Catholic school
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Five marks of a Catholic school

Deal W. Hudson of the Morley Institute reports on an address by a Vatican official. The story is also reported here:

Vatican Official Explains What Makes a School Catholic

His name is one you should know. Archbishop J. Michael Miller is the Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education in the Vatican. That means he helps oversee Catholic education from kindergarten to college and graduate school throughout the world.

I met with the self-effacing Archbishop over breakfast before his lecture at a Conference on Catholic education co-sponsored by the Catholic University of America and the Solidarity Association of Atlanta, Georgia. He left the presidency of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas to take his post sixteen months ago. After arriving, Miller was “surprised to discover that only twenty Episcopal conferences in the world had approved ordinances implementing Ex Corde Ecclesiae.”

When asked if the situation was improving he was upbeat, “Canada and Australia are close to finishing their ordinances and India and Mexico have them well underway.”

But there is better news. Since the publication of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, over 1,300 new institutions have been created in India. An abundance of new growth is also found in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, Mexico, and Chile. “Overall the future looks promising,” he adds, “because of new growth in Catholic institutions where they are most badly needed.” All the data, he says, is chronicled in a new book published by his Congregation, unfortunately only in Italian.

Miller’s address to the conference turns out to be the finest I have ever heard on Catholic education. His words belied the blandness of the title, “The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Education.” Rather than citing text upon text from Vatican documents, he cut to the heart of the matter, telling the audience that he wanted to answer the question, “How do you know if a school is really Catholic.”

He offered the following five benchmarks of a Catholic education as the essence of Vatican teaching on education. Miller called them the “marks of a Catholic education.”

Although these criteria apply mainly to K through 12 education, Miller insisted they could easily be adapted to college and university education by the addition of a criterion on excellence in scholarship.

A Catholic school should be:

1. “Inspired by a supernatural vision.” Schools are about preparing students for “heavenly citizenship.”

2. “Founded on a Christian anthropology.” Education is the “perfection of children as images of God.”

3. “Animated by communion and community.” Schools should have the collaboration, interaction, and environment that “safe-guards the priority of the person.”

4. “Imbued with the Catholic worldview across the curriculum,” Catholic education should “transform the way we see reality.”

5. “A place where committed Catholics teach.” Catholic teachers should themselves be “witnesses for Christ.”

Archbishop Miller has real world experience in Catholic education. As president of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, he helped to make a good Catholic university into an excellent one – a university that deserves to be included on any short list of faith based Catholic colleges and universities.

Good Catholic schools grow from the “bottom up, not from the top down,” Miller concluded. Wherever you find a good Catholic school you will find leaders behind it who have a “genuine Catholic vision of education.”

At the beginning of the conference the present Chair of the USCCB Committee on Education, Bishop Bernard J. Harrington, congratulated the co-sponsors, saying it was the first meeting of its kind on Catholic education in the United States. Harrington mentioned other conferences that were being planned in the near future. We can hope that Archbishop Miller’s list of benchmarks will be the starting point of future discussions on Catholic education. Such clarity is as rare as it is bold.

Kevin Schmiesing

Kevin Schmiesing, Ph.D., is a research fellow for the research department at the Acton Institute. He is a frequent writer on Catholic social thought and economics, is the author of American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895-1955 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2002) and is most recently the author of Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II (Lexington Books, 2004). Dr. Schmiesing holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in history from Franciscan University ofSteubenville. Author of Within the Market Strife and American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895—1955 (2002), he serves as Book Review Editor for the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is also executive director of