Column: Catholic schools combine faith and reason for the common good

Kathy O'Hara is the superintendent of archdiocesan schools.
Kathy O’Hara is the superintendent of archdiocesan schools.

by Kathy O’Hara

Dear friends of Catholic schools,

When I was grocery shopping recently, I ran into a former teacher in one of our Catholic schools. She had taught with us for many years, then decided she needed to see what “life was like in other places.”

After being gone for two years, she now is looking to come back to Catholic schools. She described her venture into public school teaching as a very valuable experience. She commented on how dedicated her colleagues in the public school were — how much time they devote to their profession — and what good teachers they are.

However, she also noted that it is very frustrating to teach in a place where you cannot bring God into the classroom. This teacher told me how eager her students were to learn about God and to be able to pray with their classmates. She knew this because her students ask about God and how she worships God. She may or may not be able to answer her students’ questions; this teacher knows her boundaries in a public school.

My encounter with the teacher was in my mind when I learned about a local project designed to determine how to improve schools. This project involved a number of public and parochial schools and was heralded as “the most exciting project . . . about education” in a long time.

Quite frankly, I do not think there is much of a mystery surrounding what makes a school or school system great. Anthony Bryk and others wrote about it beautifully in “Catholic Schools and the Common Good,” in which they reported on their exhaustive research on both Catholic and public schools.

Here are some of their conclusions and recommendations:

• A strong core curriculum and the same high expectations of all students yield high student academic achievement.

• A strong sense of mission and community, grounded in faith and morality, results in students who act with dignity and respect for others.

• “Christian personalism” and the principle of subsidiarity are critical to developing students’ minds, bodies, and spirits as human persons.

• Parent engagement in the school community is greater when it is considered a moral obligation.

• When the purpose of education is for the good of the greater community, students understand their achievement is part of a higher purpose. Simply stated, the best education incorporates what St. Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic Church have long proclaimed — faith and reason.

What Bryk and his colleagues have outlined is what we do in Catholic schools. However, we must keep working diligently to always improve. Watch for updates in future columns about our efforts. ¡Vaya con Dios!

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