By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond
Clarion Herald – 9/17/11
Archbishop Gregory Aymond addressed a gathering of more than 100 principals and presidents of Catholic elementary and secondary schools on Sept. 8. He asked the administrators to consider seven requests during the upcoming academic year. Here are excerpts of his remarks:
1.) I invite you to strengthen the Catholic identity of our schools. It’s true that all of our classrooms should have crucifixes, and we should offer Mass, confession and religion class, but that’s only an external dimension of Catholic identity. To me, Catholic identity also means that we do our best to make sure that in every class – not just in religion class – there is something transmitted about our Catholic tradition and faith. That can easily be done in language, literature, English or history class, but it should be done in every class. I’m not talking about proselytizing but about helping young people be formed into the heart and mind of Christ. Catholic identity is something we as administrators and teachers must model. The more unified we are as a faculty, the more we will be able to communicate, forgive and help one another grow. That will be picked up by our students. Sometimes we think as Catholic school administrators that we don’t have factions or conflict. We do. We must deal with the conflicts that naturally exist among us, and the atmosphere should be one of a Christian community. We are Catholic schools, and we can never water down who or what we are. We are very grateful that we have faculty members and students who are people of other Christian denominations and even of other religions. While we are not trying to convert faculty members or students, we should be there for them if they desire to join the Catholic Church. They should be able to witness that the faculty, staff, president and principal are proud and happy to be Catholic and they know their faith.
2.) Continue giving leadership to our teachers so they can continue to become more creative. Curriculum is very important. Sometimes it is our ministry and responsibility to challenge teachers toward more creativity and to motivate them to do their best. I’m sure there have been times when we’ve heard a faculty member say, “I’ve been doing it this way for 20 years, and I’m not about to change.” That person needs to be challenged.
3.) Give special attention to teacher certification, including religion teachers. This is an ongoing challenge, but in order to offer quality Catholic education in all its forms, including religion, we must have people who are certified in the various subjects they teach. We have a standard in this archdiocese that a religion teacher must either be degreed in theology or must be certified by the archdiocese. Why? Because we do not want people in the classroom misrepresenting or misleading people about Catholic teaching, no more than we would want them misleading young people about science or history.
4.) We need to continue to develop the family of Catholic schools. We are a family of schools, and it is important that those who are strong in numbers and in finances help those who are weak in those areas. We are all in this together, and it’s important for us to see the larger picture. I have no hidden agenda about the recommendations of the strategic planning now underway by The Catholic University of America. Those experts will give us suggestions for future decisions. But we’re going to have to collaborate even more. Every time you and I make a decision about a school, it is rare that that decision does not have an impact on other schools around us. We have to look at our larger mission and ministry, not just at our individual school or parish. That’s why we’re asking people not to go into other people’s territory deliberately to recruit students. There is a lot of competition among us, and I’m not talking about sports. It’s competition for students and programs. That’s not the Christian way. I challenge us to see ourselves as a family and not as individual entities.
5.) Give special attention to the formation of parents, both on the elementary and high school level. Many adults are hungering for greater insight in their child’s spiritual life. We also have the other extreme, where a parent will drop off a child at school or at Mass and then go back home and go to sleep. My head’s not in the sand. But the best way to help adults reinvigorate their faith life is to invite them to look at their child’s faith life. Many people who have been away from the church come back because of their children.
6. ) The “Theology of the Body” as given to us by Pope John Paul II is a tremendous resource. Peg Kenny in our Respect Life office is working with Brian Butler, who has just written a wonderful Theology of the Body for middle-school students. This is not new theology but a fresh approach that is tailored to their age group. Anyone who teaches Theology of the Body in the Archdiocese of New Orleans must be certified to teach it by the Office of Religious Education.
7.) I invite us to create in all of our schools a culture that supports vocations. Sometimes we say we don’t have enough priests, brother or sisters as though it’s God’s problem. Jesus said he would never leave the flock untended. But we must do our job fostering and awakening those vocations. I ask you to make sure that the atmosphere of your school is imbued with a deep and abiding respect for the priesthood and religious life. We need to help foster the future of our church.
Your ministry is so important. Thank you. Continue to teach and lead as Jesus did! You are important to our ministry of Catholic education.
Archbishop Aymond welcomes questions from readers. Please e-mail questions to [email protected]