What is the Catholic character of a school?
Archbishop Jason Gordon sought to provide an answer to this question during his opening day presentation on Catholic education at the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) Virtual Workshop.
The Archbishop’s talk via Zoom to more than 50 participants on Friday, June 26, was titled ‘Framework for Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain, A Strategic Workshop’.
The Archbishop began by stating while there are 118 Catholic primary and 21 Catholic secondary schools—Catholic as they are on the property of the Roman Catholic Church— “something else” has to make it Catholic.
“…and in other of our schools, you can walk through the schools and besides the images you might see on a wall there’s not much to tell of the Catholic character of the school,” he observed.
“…it really comes down to the Catholic character of the staff because if the staff is consciously Catholic then the school is consciously Catholic…because through the staff, the Church’s influence and educational leadership is exercised over the school and thus over the whole system,” he said in his almost hour-long talk.
The Archbishop said it is not hard for him to imagine a Catholic school with no Catholic children. However, it is, he said, “impossible” to imagine a Catholic school without a Catholic principal and staff.
Archbishop Gordon revealed that a high percentage of Catholic students are either non-Catholics/non-practising Catholics or their families are non-practising Catholics.
He however asserted that great things happen from the perspective of the Catholic imagination.
He shared that four months after being installed Archbishop, he had already “interfaced” with Catholic education at various levels where he identified four major gaps.
He observed there was no clear sense of mission for the Church that sees Catholic education as essential to Church and parish life.
The Archbishop described the relationship between the school and the parish as “tenuous at best” yet usually supportive at times. When there’s great cooperation between parish and school, the Catholic identity of the school and the character of the school tends to be “a lot better”.
Another gap, Archbishop Gordon highlighted is a governance gap which exists due to a lack of adequate resources, human and fiscal, to create the necessary structures, policies, and support for the governance of the Catholic schools.
While the Archdiocese’s Catholic schools aims to give value-added education to every child who is enrolled therein, there exists a performance gap.
The Archbishop mentioned a number of students who are failing the minimum standard of education, especially in the poor communities.
Performance, he stressed, is not necessarily academics, but “across the board in terms of a citizen of the country and as a disciple of Christ.”
Archbishop Gordon also highlighted a transformation gap to Catholic education. He questioned whether the Archdiocese has the capacity to transform its Catholic schools into an articulated mission, vision, philosophy, values etc., which will form children to live their full potential.
On the question of how to close these gaps, the Archbishop reiterated that the leadership of the teachers and principals is important. Without that, he said, the school has no Catholic character.
The philosophy of Catholic education is vital as it allows educators and students the opportunity of seeing the world in a particular way that connects everything into an integral ecosystem.
If all of that is going to happen, then Catholic schools will see excellence in faith, academic, physical, emotional and character formation, the Archbishop said.
Ultimately, Archbishop Gordon maintained that education is not about pouring information into somebody’s head with “technical stuff”. It is rather about giving birth to a person—another way of speaking about vocation. —KJ
Zoom breakout team discussions were held June 27 and 29.
The final Plenary session with team presentations was on July 3.