All posts tagged: Catholic education

MacIntyre on What is Sinking Catholic Education

There is a university chapel in Washington State that always makes me think it could be easily converted into a low-key Starbucks café. It would not be the most architecturally interesting Starbucks, but it would do. It would make money. The university that houses the chapel is well-known for stressing its identity as formed by a brand name religious order, rather than being “Catholic.” I used to think this distinction was hyperbole, rather than actual practice. But then a friend told me that an acquaintance of his who is a recruiter for that very university tells its recruits that the university “is x, and not Catholic.”[1] I’ve withheld names because there is no reason to single out an institution when this pattern is all too familiar in Catholic universities.[2] I mention this because Tim O’Malley briefly proposed in “Letting the Imagination Out to Play” that the rejuvenation of the Catholic liturgical imagination will take place through Catholic institutions of higher education: Yes, of course, the Church needs to put aside money to this process. To …

Catholic Culture in the Classroom

Last summer I took a course on Catechesis and how to approach the work of sharing the Gospel through education. At some point during the course I was confronted with the question, “What is the culture of my classroom?” I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Initially, I thought about the experience my students have in my class, the generally positive student evaluations I receive, the comfortable relationships I have with the vast majority of my students. Then I thought about what my classroom actually looks like and how that informs the cultural milieu of the class: plenty of crucifixes, icons, and religious art, some Notre Dame swag (pennants and such), and half the Ignatius Press catalog on my bookshelf. Then I realized I have a rather shallow understanding of culture. In Truth and Tolerance, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said that culture “has to do with perceptions and values. It is an attempt to understand the world and the existence of man with it . . . guided by the fundamental interest of our existence.”[1] …

Telling the Story in Teaching Religion

My constant beef with middle school religion textbooks: There is no story. They just contain a hodge-podge of information strung together. Even when a particular grade level’s book has a theme, the chapters still follow each other like a gaudy striped scarf instead of a tapestry that weaves a picture. In one unit of seventh grade, the chapters cover giving alms and St. Francis, the Eucharist, the two great commandments, and then the raising of Lazarus. Now, these are all areas ripe for discussion, which I would love to share with my seventh grade students. However, a random bunch of topics is not memorable. It is not relevant. It leads to students asking questions like, “Am I ever going to need to know any of this?” and “Why are we learning this?” and “How do we even know any of this is true, anyway?” At the beginning of Unit 3 (not ideal, but better late than never) I finally attempted to give all three grades some context. I talked about the story of salvation: God’s …

The Catholic Imagination in the Classroom

My students have grown accustomed to their senses being bombarded with stimulation. They find it difficult, as do I, to cut off from the noise of the fast-paced world swirling around them. Too often, the media that falls in their lap, or rather pops up on their screen, is less than hopeful. It portrays a cold world where nothing is certain, only hard facts and “science” can be trusted, and faith must be kept at arm’s length, as all superstitions should. This worldview, in my opinion, is causing an existential crisis among our students before they even enter high school. This environment does nothing to help me as a teacher of theology to nourish the Catholic imagination of my students, a task I feel is at the center of my work as a catechist. In this world, a sacramental view is seen as foolish at best and willful ignorance at worst. This hermeneutic of skepticism makes it nearly impossible for conventional approaches to catechesis to break through the noise and open their eyes and ears …

Catholic Higher Education and the New Evangelization

Today courses in Catholic theology are supposed to be characterized by the New Evangelization. My contention is supported by two basic lines of evidence. First, magisterial teaching strongly testifies to the necessity of teaching theology with an evangelical orientation, including Vatican II’s Gravissimum Educationis, several documents issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s 2008 address to Catholic educators. These sources demonstrate that professors working in Catholic institutions of higher education are supposed to explain the rationale for Church teaching in the classroom. Second, I briefly outline and discuss the results from a questionnaire that I sent out to at least one theologian at every Catholic college and university in the Unites States. The results of this questionnaire indicate some hesitations about my proposal. I exposit these challenges under five broad headings and offer rebuttals to their concerns in the light of Catholic teaching. Magisterium, Universities, Evangelization One of the most important documents for understanding the role of Catholic education in the modern world is Vatican II’s Gravissimum Educationis. This Declaration …

Jesus Christ with a crown on a blue background (in stained glass)

To Think with Christ the King

As a teacher at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland (as well as an alumnus of the [reliably, allegedly hallowed] Class of 2000), I was pleased to receive in my box the other day a twelve-page booklet titled “At Bishop McNamara High School, We Choose to Think with Christ.” To provide some background information, “To Think with Christ” is our school’s motto, and this independent clause within the booklet’s title was featured prominently on the front cover. The booklet was accompanied by an invitation to contribute financially to the advancement of the institution, but that worthwhile expectation is ancillary to what ultimately drew me in. As I read through the booklet, particularly enthused by the myriad ways in which our students are actively involved in charitable service initiatives to the community both within and beyond the school, the words “To Think with Christ” continued reverberating in my heart. Indeed, it is through serving the broader community that we in Catholic education have the prospect of engaging in Christian outreach and thereby underscoring access to …

Thoughts on a Theology of Teaching: “You give them something to eat”

When I found out that I got a job teaching high school theology, I began to ask all of the teachers I knew what advice they had for me. I heard all kinds of things about classroom management and lesson plan preparation. However, the one piece of advice that has stayed with me came from a professor at Notre Dame. “I’m going to be a high school theology teacher, Professor. Do you have any advice for me?” “Jesus told his disciples, ‘You give them something to eat.’” “Pardon?” “Jesus told his disciples, ‘You give them something to eat.’” “…?” I’ve thought more about this puzzling piece of “advice” than any other. In the ninth chapter of Luke (and the sixth of Mark), Jesus goes out to a deserted place. When the people follow Him, but turn out to be hungry, the Apostles ask for Jesus to send the crowds away. Jesus says instead, “You give them something to eat” (cf. Lk 9:13 and Mk 6:37). Of course, they have no money to be able to …

The Idea of a Catholic University

Those privy to conversations in Catholic higher education in the last twenty years are well aware of the contentious status of discourse regarding Catholic identity among these institutions of higher learning.[1] Does the Catholic identity of such schools relate primarily to the prominence of theological and philosophical education in the curriculum? Is it ensured through an emphasis on tangible Catholic practice and visible iconography on campus? To what extent does Church teaching inform who is invited to campus, either for awards or for other lectures? Does one cultivate the Catholic character of a university by establishing faculty and student quotas, ensuring the presence of religiously like-minded faculty, staff, and students alike? If Catholic identity is a contentious term, might it be more profitable to nurture a robust conversation regarding Catholic intellectual tradition?[2] Such queries are not simply the result of Catholics, who succumbed to the secularization of higher education in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[3] As Monika Hellwig summarized the situation of modern-day Catholic higher education in the United States: We are the …