What is Catholic education for? Principals explore issues at the heart of Catholic schools


Emily Dahdah, Director of Educational Quality and Excellence in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and the Minneapolis Office for Catholic Education Mission, presents a lesson on “Mission, Culture, and Emerging Issues in Catholic education”. The course was developed by OMCE and the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas. SCREENSHOT FROM TBS

“The purpose of Catholic education is to impart the best of culture, to bring out the best in students, to prepare students for the world in which they live.”

Speaking in a video against a backdrop of bookshelves, Michael Naughton shares that vision in a new course developed for Catholic education leaders. Helping Catholic principals and teachers understand and live the truth of their mission is key to the success of Catholic education in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, its leaders say.

The course “Mission, Culture and Emerging Issues in Catholic Education” was developed by the Office for the Mission of Catholic Education of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Center for Catholic Studies of the University of Saint Thomas. The course was written by Naughton, who directs the Center for Catholic Studies, and Emily Dahdah, Director of Educational Quality and Excellence at OMCE.

The course grew out of the Archdiocesan Roadmap for Excellence in Catholic Teaching, a strategic initiative launched in 2019 to strengthen Catholic teaching in the Archdiocese. Part of the roadmap’s work is to improve principal retention rates, as an annual average of 15 to 20 of the archdiocese’s 90 schools have experienced principal turnover in recent years, Dahdah said. . “Mission, Culture and Emerging Issues in Catholic Education” is part of the response to this need, with the hope that a better understanding of his vocation will bring stability to his work.

The course includes three areas of focus: Excellence in Catholic Education, Catholic Culture and Cultural Competence, and The Call to Open Our Hearts Wide: Catholic Schools in the Face of Racism. The first part is key to helping Catholic leaders and educators understand their work in light of the purpose of Catholic education, said Dahdah, who holds a doctorate in organizational leadership from the University of Minnesota.

“Historically, the archdiocese has relied on the primary (state) license and teacher license as setting the standard for professional quality, professional preparation,” Dahdah told The Catholic Spirit March 17. But with the state license as the primary norm, it means Catholic schools would look to the state, not the church, to define the purpose of education, she said.

“What we’re really looking at is what a Catholic headteacher should do? Of course, there is a lot of overlap in what a public school teacher or a public school principal does, but there are also substantially unique things that a Catholic school teacher must do,” said said Dahdah.

Michael Naughton

Michael Naughton

Some of these differences are practical, but many are philosophical and rooted in understanding God, the human person, and the purpose of life. Catholic education, she said, sees the student as having body and soul, the world both material and spiritual, and “the good life” as one of acquiring virtue and hope. eternity with God.

This vision of education has never been fully realized with the philosophy that underpins American public education, which is why Catholic education has long been a part of the Church’s presence in America, even when public school curricula were rooted in Christian principles, Dahdah said. But, as public schools have become increasingly secular, the philosophical difference between Catholic education and public education has widened, she said.

“The direction of public education, roughly summarized, educates in the visible and material world, and the visible material world exclusively, to such an extent that you can’t even take in the reality of the supernatural world,” Dahdah said. “Whereas Catholics would say that we believe that the material world and the spiritual world are intertwined. We are made body and soul. And to fully educate a child is to educate him on both levels of mind and body, both spirit and soul together. When you only do one, you actually teach the child, in a way, that it’s the only thing that matters.

The Church, she said, “has always viewed education uniquely as preparing souls for God – to be good men and women who love the Lord, and from this primacy of this relationship is what makes it possible to live in peace with one another, to be good citizens, to be good mothers, to be good fathers.

This vision also informs the Church’s vision of the role of parents in education: as primary educators, with whom Catholic schools cooperate.

“Our work as Catholic educators is very transparent to parents, or should be very transparent to parents,” she said. “As society becomes more divided, if you see this playing out in public education, it makes it harder for parents to perhaps know what is being taught or to feel like it reflects their values. “

The course “Mission, Culture and Emerging Issues in Catholic Education” does not begin with a lesson on what Catholic education is or how it differs from non-Catholic education, but rather with a reflection on what what it means to be a Catholic educator and how it is rooted in the idea not only of work, but of being called by God to a particular vocation.

“At the heart of this call to work, as educators, is an invitation to self-sacrifice,” says Naughton in the course’s first lesson. “This work that we do in Catholic education is so important that the Lord invites a deeper transformation of it — but it is not reflected in our work. It is found in this deepest sense of receptivity. It is found in silence, in prayer, in adoration, in the sacraments, in the profound life of the day of the Lord.

Naughton draws from his doctorate in theology, his master’s degree in business administration and nearly 40 years of experience in Catholic education, first in Catholic high schools and then at the university level. He explains that a person’s work is not just a personal call, but a community call, and that Catholic educators “need to have a common purpose, and not just today, but throughout time. in particular the 2,000 year tradition of the Church, through the development and deepening of a Catholic worldview. This involves resisting the ever-present temptation to divide or compartmentalize one’s professional life from one’s religious life, he said.

In the course, Dahdah and Naughton identify and explain the four principles of excellence in Catholic education: academic success and integration, spiritual life, formation in virtue, and apostolic discernment.

“Mission, Culture, and Emerging Issues in Catholic Education” is divided into 20 lessons, each with videos and reading materials, and three opportunities for in-person or online discussion. Currently, two cohorts with a total of 40 directors participate in the course. The OCME expects all principals of Catholic schools to complete the course within the next two years and also guide their school’s teachers through the course.

Mary Ziebell, principal of St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic School in Delano, is currently taking the course. She admits that when she found out, her first reaction was annoyance that “there was something else to do”. But she changed her mind when she started classes.

“It really made me stop and think about what I personally do in my life and what we do at school,” she said. “It’s a great focus. I think we can get caught up in a lot of things when we say “excellence” and “growth” and all those big words and big things to do. But it has to come from the beginning. It has to come from ‘why are we doing this?’ … If we do this, then our children can truly accept the gift that God has given them, and then they will excel in whatever they choose to do. It’s a great way to see the mission and where we’re going.

She is grateful that the simplicity of the video format allows her to review the videos now and in the future, and she is excited to share the content with St. Maximilian staff, she said.

The course is the first part of a three-year archdiocesan plan for the professional development of school leaders, Dahdah said, and it complements the work of the Institute for Catholic School Leadership at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul. , which “equips teaching leaders to nurture a vibrant Catholic culture, cultivate spiritual and academic excellence, and apply executive management skills to develop and improve their schools,” according to its website. Launched in 2019, the institute offers a graduate certificate program in Catholic School Leadership and plans to offer workshops, lectures and other continuing education opportunities for school leaders.

Current and future Catholic school principals in the archdiocese are encouraged to complete the certificate program, Dahdah said.

She hopes to be able to measure the impact of these initiatives through the OMCE Catholic Schools Survey, a newly revamped process in which Catholic schools participate every five years to reflect on their work in light of their mission. If she sees schools implementing the vision presented in the course, she will consider it a success, she said.

“The Church has such deep riches, and when those riches and treasures of our tradition and culture are passed on to the child, that’s what brings out the best in the child,” Dahdah said. “It is extremely important that we all continue to cultivate, both our minds and our hearts, what is our tradition? What are these jewels, these riches that we possess? How do we transmit to the children in our care? It is part of this effort of the Course – to promote this knowledge, this reflection and this intentionality while mainstream education increasingly neglects what we consider essential questions. So, (it’s) bringing back to the center of attention those essential things that our children must have in order to be happy, to reach their potential.

Key words: Catholic Education, Catholic Schools, Center for Catholic Studies, Emily Dahdah, Michael Naughton, Catholic Education Mission Office, Roadmap, Roadmap for Excellence in Catholic Education

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