‘Catholic’ teachers undermining the Church?

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What do you seriously think will happen when enough of the staff of any Catholic school are non-Catholic or when enough of the Catholic staff within it either don’t practice their faith or can’t stand most of what the Church actually teaches?

If you are reading this there is a good chance you are university educated. Even if you’re not the question is pretty simple. What do you seriously think will happen when enough of the staff of any Catholic school are non-Catholic or when enough of the Catholic staff within it either don’t practice their faith or can’t stand most of what the Church actually teaches?

It would be nice to think that the end result of the massive demographic and sociological changes in developed nations in the last half century were to mean that the evangelizing mission of the Church would just carry on merrily into the sunset. The problem for Catholic schools is simply that the task they undertake is unlike any other. It is unique. Without enough individual teachers having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church then we are, sooner or later, running on vapors. A Catholic school cannot exist outside the Church and outside the Eucharist that sustains her. We have to ask some very confronting questions. How are we really different from secular schools? What happens when enough of the teachers in our schools, even if they are baptized Catholics live and teach from an unacknowledged worldview of secular post-modernism and its philosophical patrimony of nihilist atheism. We can’t just do the novelty of an Ash Wednesday liturgy and call ourselves a Catholic school. It has to permeate more than the principal’s column in the newsletter. Instead it must appear in tangible, powerful and multiple forms. From our personal life choices, to how we speak to colleagues, to how we view our role in the lives of each young person.

When I began my teaching career at a large Catholic high school I was, and obviously remain, passionate about what God had done in my own life and I was just as passionate about sharing that with young people. I was newly married, and after a long talk with Karen I was convicted that we needed to be praying as a staff. By this I mean actually praying. Not the, “…sharing our dream, singing our story, prancing our vision…” claptrap that gets rolled out in just about every Catholic educational gathering I have ever attended. I mean real prayer. Prayer where staff humbly kneel before the Blessed Sacrament begging God for His guidance, praying for families torn asunder by conflict and pain, praying for kids struggling with chronic depression,praying for the Pope and the Bishops, praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to create a kingdom place of refuge, academic excellence and spiritual power.

To get us praying as a staff I hatched a cunning plan. Granted it wasn’t rocket science but I felt I was on to something. Karen and I printed over 100 invitations to a new staff prayer morning which would be held once a week for just fifteen minutes. We rolled them into scrolls and tied them with ribbons and placed one in every staff locker and pigeon hole. We advertised in the staff bulletin, we even had announcements on the P.A. system. The morning dawned bright and clear. I made my way to the Chapel hoping that no one had been injured by any crowd crush. I should have spent longer over my instant coffee. I was alone…I was alone the week after that as well, and the ones that followed. No one came. Not a soul.

Friends, imagine a rocket fired into space. Sooner or later it runs out of fuel. Gravity does the rest. Certain laws run the universe. When enough staff in Catholic schools are not inspired by the Gospel, when they ignore the sacraments and treat the Church’s teaching, especially on the big ticket items, as optional extras then the result is not an increase in the evangelizing mission of the Church and it’s not even homeostasis. Sorry everyone, the result is atrophy and eventual death.

Why is no one talking about this? It’s the emperor’s new clothes. It’s not working anymore and it’s not fooling anyone. It’s time we started acting like grown ups and started calling them by their right names even if those names include sin, laziness, arrogance and cynicism.

What is needed is a massive New Evangelisation within the heart of each Catholic school. It’s not the kids we need to worry about. For crying out loud, they are not going to believe a thing we say about God and the Church unless we believe it and if we don’t believe it then we need to have the moral courage and integrity to review what we are doing with our lives. It is a heavy burden to realise we may be an actual stumbling block to young people knowing Christ if we sow seeds of doubt, indifference and sarcasm into their primary experience of contact with the Catholic tradition, that being their time in our schools.

It’s time to make some noise. It’s time to strengthen the remnant and to rebuild the wall that has been trodden down as it was in the time of Nehemiah. You need to realise the incredible power we each have by simply choosing to cooperate with what God wants to do in our lives through the ministry of the Church he established. As one pastor famously said, “Set yourself on fire and everyone will come to watch you burn.” What we need now is passionate, committed Catholic educators on fire for a New Evangelisation. Prophets of hope who refuse to give in to the fact that, as it stands, most of our students will be unlikely to visit a Church in first twelve months after graduation. We can do better.

I know you are out there. I know that you care about what it means to be Catholic and that you love the Church and that deep within you is the desire that each precious young person you serve will come to know the same truths and find in them peace, joy and a life of meaning and contribution.

In the forum below please share what you are doing that works and your stories of hope.

We need to hear them.

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  • Alan

    Not one? Even after a couple of weeks of knowing you were there on your own? I wonder if you had asked a couple of staff members whom you might have known better why the response was so disheartening in a clearly Catholic school what their opinion might have been? And just as I’m typing this comment, I’m wondering too if this disheartening response became part of your own prayer, too Jonathan? How do we work out when it’s time to give up or when it’s time to press onwards with what we believe? I wonder what might have happened if this invitation had been extended to the senior students – would their response have been different to the staff’s, or the same?
    Not only are we ‘missionaries to a teenage culture’ in our Catholic secondary schools in Australia, I think, but also ‘missionaries to those amongst whom we work’ these days. When is it time to say ‘Enough’s enough!’ when we feel ourselves called to live from our hearts?
    Just wondering….

    • Jonathan Doyle

      Thanks Alan for a great post! I am reminded quite a lot these days of the prophet Elijah who almost gave up and prayed for it all to be over. God usually turns up around the time we get to the end of our capacity.

      Pope Benedict recently said that the Church of the next era will be smaller but holier.


  • Maria Lastica

    I love this article! As a practising catholic and pre-graduate teacher it has been apparent to me that these issues are present in many catholic schools. I agree when you say this issue has been pushed to the corner but then again I cannot think of a realistic way to counter act this movement. I just have to remember to take my passion for Christ into the school especially the classroom. Love your ministry, keep up the great work.

    • Jonathan Doyle

      Thanks Maria. Really appreciate the post. I think, ultimately we each need to strive to become saints. If we yearn to draw closer to God he will accomplish in and through us what He wills. In one sense, it removes all the pressure from ,”us’ and allows us to find some solace in Him.

  • A thoughtful and sobering article, Jonathan. It’s hard to know where to start sometimes… The teachers, the students, the student teachers, the Parents? In truth conversion is needed in all these groups. Our catholic schools are in such high demand, we are well placed to boldly expect greater commitment to the practice of our faith… I wonder if our catholic education system has the courage to be ‘smaller and holier’ as B16 has predicted for the church at large.

    • Jonathan Doyle

      Interesting insight. I had not thought about the fact that, excuse the commercial language, Catholic education is a sought after and relatively limited commodity. Why not have higher expectations, while also providing formation options for parents as well as their kids?

  • Kieran Donnelly

    As is happening in England now, there may come a point when a diocese here will say this school can no longer function as a Catholic school and hand it over to the general community. However, if we want to avoid getting to this point we need to make a significant commitment to staff formation. I believe Christianity can sit very easily and richly within the post modern world, but it needs knowledgeable educators in theology and spirituality to bring Christianity to life for our teachers in their post modern context. The way forward is exactly that – forward, not looking backwards. Leading others to recognise how Trinity accommodates the postmodern preference for openness to possibilities as opposed to the modernist preference for definition and precision and how Christianity accommodates the postmodern rejection of the modernist understanding of the self as imposing itself on the world, which has had such devastating effects. These effects have seen domination and totalitarianism in gender issues, in environmental issues, in political structures and in exploitive economic systems. Of course Christianity speaks to this age, it’s just we don’t have many who have the skills to make the connections nor the very, very significant commitment of systemic time and money to make it happen through effective programmes of staff formation.

    • Jonathan Doyle

      Brilliant post Kieran. Any chance I could get you to author an article?

  • Ern Azzopardi

    I admire your passion but not your sense of outrage. In every age those blessed with a vision of God’s goodness and love have put themselves at the service of those who ‘do no see.’ Mother Teresa is a well known modern example. But each day I see colleagues around me witnessing to the goodness of God and incarnating God’s loving presence in the service of the hungry, the ignorant and the confused. Hungry because they come from impoverished homes; ignorant because they struggle to learn in their classes and confused because of the secular, materialistic values in which we are all immersed in our affluent Australia. Pope Paul VI was right when he described the apostles who would be heard as those who first addressed these hungers. As for the staff: I have noticed how awareness of deep need for which there is no easy answer motivates staff to reach out to the One who can make the impossible possible. Finally remember Job; ‘The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. As it pleases the Lord so be it done. Blessed is the name of the Lord.’

    • Jonathan Doyle

      Thanks Ern. Great post. What interests me though is that the qualities you accurately outline are also just as capable of being displayed by an atheist teacher in a secular school. What I am searching for is what will make a Catholic school and a Catholic teacher truly ‘unique’. My sense is that the Gospel, the Eucharist and the Holy Spirit bring about a fundamental change within the person that allows them to do what they otherwise could not or would not. How are we different?

  • Robert Sheridan

    I teach in at St Francis Xavier’s College in Newcastle and believe that the Holy Spirit is alive and very active in Catholic Schools. At SFX we have a number of social justice programs and immersion experiences that we offer students. One iof these programs includes students teaching Special Religious Education in Primary Schools. the major influence at SFX is the presence of the Marist Brothers – great men who are active in teaching and the co-curricular activities of our College. There is nothing but hope for the Catholic Church and our Catholic schools because the Holy Soirit is still in control.

    • Jonathan Doyle

      What a great post Robert. The Marist Brothers are amazing. I was educated by them and have taught in their schools. Champagnat’s vision had been brilliantly communicated to lay teaching and leadership staff. Keep building a community of hope at SFX!

  • Theresa

    Applause for your post, and great sadness for it’s truth, I am not a teacher but a passionate Catholic Mum experiencing the same worries ou write about, I plan to start a prayer group for Parents in the Cathokic Primary school my son attends in Queensland, but I am afraid, like you, no-one will come… A very real possibility. I am praying for wisdom on this one, but good for you for voicing these thoughts, I will share the email link here and back to New Zealand where the situation is the same… I personally believe in the Church and our schools and that this is a time of purification in the Church (Catholic schools I hope so too but I don’t know?!) where the Baptised will be asked to stand up and take action, we may end up smaller, I don’t care, as long as the laity, and teachers, claim their rightful roles as the Faithful, active in their vocation as Catholic Christians.. Please God!!!!

    • Jonathan Doyle

      Thanks Theresa. It is going to be interesting times in the years ahead. That said, the Spirit has never abandoned the Church in her 2000 year journey. The phoenix always rises from the ashes and Resurrection Sunday always follows Good Friday!

  • There is much truth to this article and I fear that far too many of our Catholic schools are on the way to or have already arrived at that place where they are nothing more than state schools with a cross on the top.
    Having spent 29 years as a Catholic school teacher or principal, I have witnessed this ongoing decline in the Catholicity of our schools. Far too many pre-service teachers are studying at a tertiary level where faith doesn’t appear to be on the curriculum. Sadly they have come from Catholic primary and secondary schools where teachers with little or no Catholic faith or involvement have glossed over that part of the curriculum which is religious education and substituted it with a vague secular humanistic philosophy which fails to feed the soul. Pre-service teachers are coming through with no faith background armed with fancy certificates to show that they received the sacraments of initiation when they were in primary school. That appears to be the limit of their Catholicism. These are the teachers who will go on to spread the secular humanistic philosophy which they were indoctrinated with. It is not their fault that they have never been challenged by the Gospel. They are the ones that we, the Church, need to reach out to and embrace with love so that they too may have an opportunity to experience the power of the Living God in their lives. Then they can step forward and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord in our Catholic schools based on a personal and lived experience of God in their lives

    • Jonathan Doyle

      Thanks for a great post! You raise so much but I like the point about really reaching out the new staff with the Gospel. That is where the real work is. The kids will not believe a thing until we do.
      Have a look at the work of guys like Tim Keller in Manhattan. His work has been groundbreaking. We need to take the serious questions of the secualr seeker and answer them. Fides et Ratio – the faith is a viable response to reality. We need to stop going like lambs to the slaughter to the altar of modernism. The Gospel will outlast the prophets of this present darkness.

  • Mary

    I think we need to search hard for the positives and work from there. The students can not be fooled and are always the source of hope for me. They recognise sincerity and when presented with the truth by some one who is committed to it they usually respond. I focus on the small percentage who are open and who evidently have parents or carers who have taken some care with their formation. Then leave the rest to the Holy Spirit. I agree the culture can be overwhelming in some schools but if there is any attempt at presenting the Catholic Tradition through liturgy etc, it can speak for itself.

    • Jonathan Doyle

      Thanks Mary. As Mother Theresa said, “Work as if everything depends on you and pray as if everything depends on God!”

  • Fernando Farrugia

    Great article Jonathon. There is so much truth to what you have written. We have been extremely blessed this year with our Leadership giving myself and four other staff members an opportunity to take sixteen of our senior students to the Young Men of God (YMG) Conference held in Sydney. It has rejunevanted all of us, as well as giving us a renewed hope in what it means to be Catholic. I personally feel strengthened simply by being given the opportunity to journey with other staff to something powerfully Catholic, rich in Sacraments, praise & worship & Adoration. It has given our RE Faculty a renewed vision for Religious Education in our school. We have already formed a Music Ministry group made up of the staff and students who went on the conference. Some of the students have shown a real interest in creating lunchtime opportunities for Adoration also. I recommend staff in Catholic schools take the opportunity to go to conferences that are going to give them the ‘real deal’. Unfortunately there are far too many professional development days that concentrate solely on curriculum leaving the average teacher undernourished and unformed.

  • Edmund

    Jonathan your article really hist the nail on the head and causes me to agree with a recent comment here in Britian in one of our periodicals that ‘Catholic schools have become nothing more than factories of lapsation’ [actually to be lapsed you’ve got to lapse from something so if you’ve had nil formation in the Faith in the first place as a young person [chiefly through the failure of the Primary Educators in your life, your parents] then compounded by the weak example of your teachers then the blame cannot all be laid at the doors of the Catholic school. John Paul II in addressing neglected norms in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, (1990 Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Higher Education). The Holy Father objected to the “bleaching” of Catholic identity and noted that “some institutions have ignored, hidden, or lost their ecclesial identity.” When he spoke of Catholic identity his reference to “fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church” defines what “Catholic” really means in terms of fidelity to the Faith as proposed by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Learning, living, and breathing the Catholic Faith is what ensures Catholic identity. Such loyalty to the Magisterium is the sine qua non of a Catholic ethos and in the context of the student’s experience in a catholic school is must be within a REAL sense of the communion of persons centred on and around the Eucharistic Presence of the Lord in that institution.

  • Nathan

    A great article, putting the Challenge out there and calling a spade a spade..

  • David Kenyon

    David Kenyon – Trinity Catholic College
    I have been teaching here for 28 years. Our College has intentionally sought to do a number of things to make Jesus know and loved. Our charism is the blend of two foundational charisms – Marist and Presentation. It influences all that we do and say. ITs presence is felt in these ways: We have vibrant Liturgies and Masses – we value times of worship, we are active in Social Justice, We are introducing Christian Meditation for all in 2012 – everyone praying together, we have introduced CSYMA for our Committed Catholic Students, our religious programmes are well presented resourced and relevant, Our Retreat program is excellent. We unashamedly seek to evangelise all community members. We are well led in the Religious Education area which has primacy of place. Our staff know they are all part of the equation. I have done research on Success in teaching religious education which I found out was then nominated by ACU and subsequently been given an award by the NSW Institute of Education Research for an Outstanding Thesis. It seems obvious that from what is written here that there are some great things happening and their GOOD NEWS needs to be spread. I am now going to publish my findings and hopefully they may inspire schools to ‘re-energize’ to bring the love of Christ to all in their communities.

  • Jordan Grantham

    An exciting article Johnathan.

    By placing social justice & self-esteem theology above orthodoxy/praxis not only do schools miss out on Christ but the heart of each is absent, denying students any lasting fruits.

    The ‘prancing your vision’ line was very funny! Why the edit?

    • Jonathan Doyle

      Thanks Jordan. I just reverted to the original post with the ‘prancing our vision”…I got talked into pulling it out but you gave me the motivation to put it back!

  • Teenage children are not obtuse. They know what their teachers believe and how they act. They know if teachers are living in various types of relationships, are on the Pill, believe in abortion, don’t go to Mass, etc. It is by example that we teach the young, as well as through what we say. I have been aware for many years of the ‘dumbing’ down of the faith. Why would our students go to Mass when they have been told “we are all going to heaven” and sin is treated as a “dirty” word, not to be mentioned! In many cases the Church is presented through innuendoes and lies, as a corrupt institution. There are priests, nuns and lay people who teach heresy and disobedience to the Magisterium. Parents are guilty as well. Unfortunately much of this comes from ignorance but there are Catholic schools with principals and teachers who are doing an excellent job of passing on the faith.

    You are right Jonathon. It is a case of the “emperor’s new clothes”. It is similar to “politically correct” language. The truth must not be spoken, but if you do, be prepared to be criticized.

  • Jim Hart

    I have just started going back to the catholic church after many years in the Evangelical church. I was brought up an RC. My reason primarily to go back to the church was so that I can teach RE. My concern has been for many years teaching in the catholic system is the sparsity of ‘committed believers’ I have often been disheartened by the plethora of teachers who are apathetic about who Christ is and the mission of the church.

    I thank God that I have met some Catholic teachers who have a passion for Jesus and the gospel; for whom ‘Jesus’ is not JUST another good teacher.

    I thank Mary Zore for giving me the article and referring me to the web page.

  • Jim Dowling

    We are part of a dying church in the West.
    As Johnathon said, even Pope Benedict acknowledged the fact.
    The answer is to do what we can.
    “Eat bread and salt and speak the truth” , as that great Russian saying goes.
    “Do not go gentle into that good night!”
    The church will not die completely and will undoubtedly resurrect again in a better form.

    Jim Dowling

  • Len Williams

    In Nov. 2010 friends voted me onto the ” Parish Council ” . OK. Im recently retired , got the time , will try to do my best. Hadnt a clue as to where it would lead .
    First meeting , handed a screed of papers relating to the requiremente which included the parish goals with EVANGELISING prominert. The beautiful words seen on the front page of the mass bullerin each sunday and nobody takes any notice of because no one known HOW.
    Well , I took the message to heart and began working on practical ways to evangelise to our own christian community. However , it seemed to be a hopeless task and when the parish priest ( a nice bloke and overworked ) saw my frustration advised ‘ Len , were not hear to evangelise “, I came back with ” I didnt know we had a EVANGELISING MINISTRY , father came back with ” We dont ”
    Is this your parish.
    After recovering from this setback , moved to form an evangelising ministry , carried. Time , Nov.,2011. One year to get to this point.
    My main area of concern is to strengthen the faith of practicing catholics in very practical ways and to reach out to the great mass of LAPSED parents who have children at our two catholic primary SCHOOLS .
    Neither school actively evangelises but follow the rituals of the faith . After my approach , one is very enthusastic to actively evangelise , the other is happy with the status quo.
    Working with the positive school and after a lot of false starts , we hope to include evangelising oriented leaflets ( keeping it simple ) within the ” Australian Catholic ” magazine which is the only literature actually sent physically into the home.
    Secondly , as the schools use email to advise parents of school events etc. We intend trialling one liner evangelising calls to action at the base of each item . That is , trying to encourage parents to return to the PRACTICE of their faith . No parents = No children = No church.
    To think rationally, morally and decisively, you have to exercise your conscience—
    something the politically correct mantra has told you not to do.

    We all fall short of the grace of God . At this time of Advent , if there is a sinful
    pattern in your life , resolve to overcome it.

    “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting ; it has been found difficult and not
    tried.” G.K. Chesterton. Is this your position.

    Have kept this brief , feedback appreciated.

  • Michael A Dougherty

    Dear Jonathon,
    Thank you for your heart which loves the Lord.
    I am deeply encouraged by this and many of the responses to your article. My heart burns within me to evangelise those around me who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. As a teacher and educator I have felt so despondent at the lack of visible, obvious, unified, lived and expressed practise of Catholic faith, identity and mission and call to relationship with Jesus Christ. I am encouraged at the many teachers who do have a living faith, but I long to see direction, teaching, inservice, challenge and dialogue amongst the teaching staff, so that we will know our mission.
    Teaching is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Woe to us if we fail to preach the Gospel, as if it were an added extra.
    I have felt alone in my desire to cut through the humanistic twaddle that attacks not only our society, but also our Catholic educational facilities. I am coming to realise the mystery of grace in the Eucharist and Reconciliation. Our staff and students need to hear this message, the Message of the Gospel, the power of the Gospel. Let the lie of intellectual cynicism be submitted to life of faith. Let the life of faith be encouraged by intellectual rigour and reflection founded in humility.
    Peace. Thank you for your encouragement.

  • Andrew Kunzel

    Dear Jonathan maybe it is in our response regarding our relationship with ‘God’ in your article you refer to God as ‘he’ this reduces God to one human gender even if we were to include the feminine it reduces God to a human level, God is so much more, as God told Moses when he asked what shall I call you and God replied I am who I am.
    I have found young people, and older people, most spiritual, but our approach to God needs to come into an understanding of our almighty creator (God) that is compatible with the knowldge of the 21st century. God is not a King, Shepherd or Lord but one who is responsible for all there is seen and unseen, understood or not understood, or all things yet to be discovered or may never be discovered by our limited human understanding of what is.

  • Maureen Wright

    I agree wholeheartedly. The only way to re-evangelise our Catholic schools is persistent prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament especially in the teachers Colleges. Of my 6 children who all attended Catholic schools 4 survived and still practise, while 1 now has his children at an Anglican school(wow what a great community) and my youngest has just been accepted at Notra Dame Uni, Sydney to do a B.Ed Primary. He is hoping that the Catholic community there will help re-ignite his Faith, which the 6 years of his Catholic high school all but squashed. Not that the ethos of the school was not Catholic- it was, even providing a monthly Friday Mass-(but no obvious opportunity for Reconciliation). The problem, for all of them, was the peer pressure that the Faith was irrelevant and those who claimed to still practise were often belittled. Some Catholic schools can be a very dangerous place for practising catholic children. I do believe that if ALL the teachers of RE,at least, loved their Faith and the Lord and taught the fullness of the truth- especially about sin, penance, Eucharistic adoration and the beauty of the Mass, our schools would be different.

  • Gen

    I am studying to be a teacher and think we must focus on education students and Universities that offer Catholic accreditations when thinking about revival of Catholic schools. I’m in my third year of a BEd Australian Catholic University and in my last Theology unit ‘What Christians Believe’ I was the only one in my tutorial and probably in the whole year level who went to Mass on Sundays.

    We need to work with education students to help them experience the richness of the Catholic faith during University. Graduate teachers will therefore go into schools as witnesses. Lets pray for this.

  • Fr Kevin Matthews

    In the outback town of Roxby Downs where it is difficult to get Catholic teachers, our Principal has replaced one of the daily prayer sessions with a weekly early morning Mass for all teachers. It provides a special place to get to know what we are all about. One of the teachers was recently baptised and received into the Church

  • Ian Cooper

    An excellent article and even more interesting that two of the most positive responses came from teachers in schools with a Champagnat charism. I was also taught by the marists and have worked in one of their schools. I warmly remember – ‘The pedagogy of presence’ – a quiet pride – brothers wearing their soutanes – marian simplicity – traditional prayer – social justice.
    A secular way to describe such places could use words such as being ‘earthed’ or ‘centred’ or ‘balanced’. I now work in a systemic catholic school and I sence none of the above positive feelings. Only inauthenticity. Nonetheless, I do feel optimistic. After a lot of thought, prayer and reflection I am convinced that – proud, committed, practicing, educated Catholic leadership, working together, can turn things around. Leadership is the answer and those of us who are not leaders must demand authentic leadership and support authentic leadership.

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