“From Joseph Pearce to Bishop Rhoades to our numerous breakout presenters, Catholic School Mission Day was a great day for all of us to be formed more deeply in the true, the good, and the beautiful,” Jonathan Kaltenbach, director of the Office of Catechesis shared. “Our Catholic Faith is truly the “pearl of great price” and seeing the fellowship of our teachers who are united in handing on this faith to the next generation was truly inspiring, especially after all of their heroic sacrifices since the beginning of the pandemic. Bishop Rhoades’ celebration of Mass for us tied the whole day together around the Eucharist: great literature, great art, and beautiful witness call us out of ourselves and help us offer ourselves to Jesus and serve His people.”
Catholic School Mission Days, for both sides of the diocese, took place Sept. 2-3, allowing teachers to come together as a faculty, pray and grow in their professional and spiritual development. Joseph Pearce, author and director of book publishing for the Augustine Institute, was the keynote speaker for the masked, in-person event at Marian High School, Mishawaka and Bishop Luers High School, Fort Wayne.
After a welcome from Carl Loesch, Secretariat for Pastoral Ministries and Catechesis, and opening prayer with a litany of Catholic school saints led by Dr. Joseph Brettnacher, superintendent, Pearce focused his talk on the true, the good and the beautiful, each in relation to education. He asked a series of essential questions, which through reason and logic led the listener from the virtue to the overall purpose of education.
“What is truth?” is “the most famous question ever,” Pearce explained. Asked by Pontius Pilate to Jesus, He answered once in silence and only His presence. Earlier he had stated, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” as recorded in the Gospel of John, highlighting the shift from the secular school’s focus on “what” He was to the Catholic school’s focus on “Who.” And it is preciously the “who” of Catholic education that changes everything. A real relationship with Jesus Christ, the Master Teacher, Son of God, is the center of every Catholic school.
Through both testimony and reason, Pearce narrated life experiences that confirmed the routes of the good, the true and the beautiful, explaining for teachers the richness of Catholic education and point of it.
“Goodness, truth and beauty cannot be separated; they are triune, like our God. Sometimes distinct, goodness will always lead to truth and beauty and the like, but it is perilous to separate them. Goodness is rooted in love, truth in reason and beauty in the beautiful. God is love, He is the reason, He is the beautiful.” Prayer, explained Pearce, can be understood as “the heart and mind lifted up to divine, where an experience of true beauty can lead a person closer to God.” These three transcendentals then are essential parts of a true education, an essential part of the Christian life, a matter of life and death.
Seeing through a Catholic lens, for example, of how the different courses are intended to work together and complement one another, can then naturally demonstrate how well intended popular programs such as science, technology, engineering and math are actually misguided and far from the Catholic ideal of the unity and connection of all subject matters, as they “de-humanize education.” With a dynamic speaking style and engaging personality, Pearce gently but firmly offered to the educators a renewed vision of Catholic education. He reminded them of what Catholic schools can and should be like; far from the secular, Protestant-led mindset he grew up with in England.
Breakout sessions in the afternoon reinforced the values Pearce outlined in the morning. He led ones focusing on prominent Catholic writers and literature in education, while a wide variety of presenters offered their expertise in different fields — several diocesan ministry leaders and charitable organizations included.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, during Mass, preached on true Catholic education as well.
Commenting on St. Paul’s words in the first reading, “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord,” Bishop Rhoades stated, “everything in the Church is really about this: declaring the lordship of Jesus. This is also the purpose of Catholic schools. I am strongly committed to Catholic schools because I believe they are the most effective institutions in the Church for the task of the new evangelization, for the formation of our children and young people as intentional disciples of Jesus Christ.
“Of course, our schools are only effective in this mission if they are true to their Catholic identity, if the Catholic vision of reality is infused throughout the curriculum and in the life and community of the school. A Catholic school is not simply a secular school with a religion class tacked on and a monthly Mass in the gymnasium. A Catholic school is a community of disciples of Jesus Christ with educators who, like St. Paul, do not preach themselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.”
He spoke directly to the educators present and those joining virtually from home.
“Brothers and sisters, I see you, along with our priests, as being on the frontlines of the Church’s mission and of the new evangelization. I want our schools to be unabashedly and vibrantly Catholic and to resist the secularism that dominates public education today.”
“In some places, Catholic identity has been watered down to a quite secularized version of Catholic social teaching,” the bishop said. “Students educated and formed in such a way are not deeply rooted in the truth, goodness, and beauty of our faith and will often join the increasing numbers of the religiously unaffiliated, the religious “nones.” This can also happen among graduates of Catholic high schools if they do not discover or experience there or in their homes the beauty of Catholicism.”
Offering solace and comfort, as well as inspiration, he encouraged, “As Catholic school educators, you are called to look to Christ the Teacher as your teacher and Christ the Servant as your model…. I thank you today not only for your teaching with your words, but also for your self-giving service through your love for your students.”
Christ the King fifth grade teacher and parent, Corinne Gries shared, “The afternoon breakout sessions provided an opportunity to gather as a community and reflect on educating the whole person. I specifically enjoyed learning more about Catholic Charities and how they can serve our schools. In these challenging times, it was fruitful to be reminded of acts of service and how they provide hope for our future.”
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