St Dominic's Priory School is a Catholic school. This means that everything we say and do is dedicated to the glory of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It also means that we have a strong commitment to the truth. St Dominic, our patron, founded his Order of Preachers to proclaim the truth about God and his Church in a time when many untruths were being proclaimed. As a Dominican School, we bear the motto, Veritas, meaning "truth”. We search for truth in our studies. We are honest in our dealings with others in our school community. We have integrity, accepting both praise and correction. Most importantly, we encounter Truth in the Person of Jesus Christ, who promises true freedom to those know him. Like St Dominic, we hope to encounter Christ often. With the prayers of St Dominic, we praise God, asking him to bless usand give us courage to proclaim the Truth forever.
All time at this school is consecrated to God. You will notice this as the year goes by. Apart from our formal worship and prayer, St Dominic's also has the opportunity for spiritual direction for all pupils. Spiritual direction is an age-old tradition of the Church that ministers to individual Christian. It is not psychological counselling or therapy. It is a prayerful practice that brings the light of Christ into the life of the individual: an aid to assisting the development of the spiritual life. Pupils may ask to see one of the three Oratorians for spiritual direction by presenting themselves to the Oratorian they wish to see, who will give them a permission slip. This slip is taken to the subject teacher whose lesson will be missed. It remains the responsibility of the pupil to catch up any work missed.
The Mission of a Catholic School
In an era characterised by great scientific discovery and technological invention, which have yielded both lessings and pain for humanity, it is perhaps wise that one revisits the core wisdom that should govern education so that it does not become blinded by an ever intensifying, secular culture of mass production and specialization that has caused serious fragmentation and de-personalisation in human beings.
The Church has always held that education must seek "the integral formation of the human person” (Congregation for Catholic Education (CCE) 2009 §1). As such, "children and young people must be guaranteed the possibility of developing harmoniously their own physical, moral, intellectual and spiritual gifts, and they must also be helped to develop their sense of responsibility, learn the correct use of freedom, and participate actively in social life.” This means that a school must foster the complete development of every aspect of the human person, and furthermore, must make sure that there is a wise integration of these facets of human life. As
such, the Catholic school must be an educational institution that facilitates "the synthesis between culture and faith” so that knowledge may blossom into wisdom (CCE 1997 §14).
It is a sad fact that in modern secular society this vision of the holistic development of the human person has not always been deemed important, especially the religious dimension. It is consoling that many modern psychologists and educational experts have come to realise that the spiritual dimension of the human person is a key constituent element of their being, and when neglected has dire consequences for the individual and society as a whole.
The Catholic School thus does not hold to the position that religious formation is merely an optional addition, at times useful and, at other times, cumbersome. On the contrary the Church stresses that:Religious instruction in schools [must] appear as a scholastic discipline with the same systematic demands and the same rigour as other disciplines. It must present the Christian message and the Christian event with the same seriousness and the same depth with which other disciplines present their knowledge. It should not be an accessory alongside of these disciplines, but rather it should engage in a necessary inter-disciplinary dialogue (CCE 2009 §18).
How then does the Catholic school propose to carry out this program of integrated education?
On the one hand, the Catholic school must offer young people the means to acquire the knowledge they need in order to find a place in a society which is strongly characterized by technical and scientific skill. But at the same time, it should be able, above all, to impart a solid Christian formation (CCE 1997 §8). It is through the latter duty of providing a solid Christian formation that the Catholic school establishes its distinctive identity.
The identity and mission of a Catholic School is inextricably linked with the identity and mission of the Catholic Church. If one is to fully grasp the dignity and duty of the Catholic School then one must begin with the Great Commission given by Jesus to the Apostles just before his Ascension:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, andteaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
In these closing words from the Gospel of Saint Matthew, one reads about the culmination of the earthly ministry of Jesus, the only Son of God the Father whom He sent in the fullness of time to begin the Kingdom of God on earth and bring about reconciliation between God and humanity. To continue His work of salvation, Jesus Christ founded the Church as a visible organisation,empowering her by the Holy Spirit to carry out her mission of evangelising the nations through proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ risen from the dead, and the celebration of the Sacraments (cf.Matt. 28:18-20).
Since the Catholic Church has the mission of preaching salvation in Christ to all nations and giving people the means to appropriate this salvation, the Catholic School is essentially an organ of the Church, sharing in the mission of the Church. This foundational understanding of the Catholic School as an institution that "fits into the evangelising mission of the Church”, that brings people to know, love and worship Jesus, has been reiterated many times in recent decades by the church1. Pope Benedict XVI also stressed this defining and foundational duty of a Catholic School when addressing Catholic Educators at the Catholic University of America in 2008: Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News. First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth (cf. Spe Salvi, 4). This relationship elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and his teaching. (Benedict XVI 2008).
This being said, all missionary activity must respect personal freedom, for as has been pointed out the very notion of holistic education aims at one learning the correct use of freedom. Furthermore, the school "must be permeated by the evangelical spirit of freedom and charity, which fosters the harmonious development of each one's personality” (CCE 2009 §6). It must also be remembered, however, that a Catholic school has a particular mission and identity, and that when one freely chooses to be part of such an institution oneassumes the responsibility to support and build up this mission and identity "in obedience to the solicitude of the Church” (CCE 1997 §9).
Does this mean that only Catholic children can attend a Catholic School?
To the contrary, any person of any faith or nationality is welcome, as has been the tradition of Catholic schools through the ages. In addition, every person should benefit from a Catholic education, since one of the primary tasks of any school is to draw out the ethical dimension of life so as to ensure strong character formation (CCE 1997 §12). Critical to this moral development, however, stands the implanting of absolute values, such as humility, honesty, justice and generosity, which alone give meaning to life and facilitate human flourishing.
Sources Consulted and Recommended Further Reading
1. Benedict XVI, Address to Catholic Educators at the Catholic University of America, (17 April
2. The Congregation for Catholic Education. 1977. The Catholic School.
3. The Congregation for Catholic Education. 1982. Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith.
4. The Code of Canon Law. 1983. London: Collins Liturgical Publications.
5. The Congregation for Catholic Education. 1998. The Religious Dimensionof Education in a Catholic School.
6. The Congregation for Catholic Education. 1997. The Catholic School on the threshold of the Third Millennium.
7. Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue. 2007. Fit for Mission. T. Snape & Co. Ltd., Boltons Court, Preston.
8. The Congregation for Catholic Education. 2007. Educating Together in Catholic Schools.
9. The Congregation for Catholic Education. 2009. Circular letter to the Presidents of Bishops' Conferences on Religious Education in Schools.
All documents issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education are available from:http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/