Q: What makes us Catholic?
This is a question that often comes up in a variety of contexts. Conversations in the workplace, a thought-provoking journal article, a professional development workshop, a homily at Mass, a statement made by a senior Church cleric, or perhaps challenges that are made to our own informed opinions and ideas.
There is quite obviously a far broader context here and the question itself poses numerous sub-questions and has implications for what we may consider to be the broader Catholic Church, especially in the light of the forthcoming Plenary for the Australian Catholic Church to be held next year.
Let’s consider the question in the light of our context as a Catholic school. The Catholic school is an educational community where learning, culture, faith, and life find a meeting place. In 2019, in a contemporary pluralistic society, the challenge of making this meeting place meaningful for students lies at the heart of the challenge faced by all Catholic schools in our time. It is a challenge that is demanding and has its complexities.
The religious identity question of schools, in particularly, the Catholic identity of Catholic schools, has become critical in recent times, especially in the light of the above. Questions related to identity have become theoretical, theological, political, and even economical.
A number of things have caused me of late to reflect on the identity of Catholic Schools. Having completed a post-graduate subject called “Enhancing Catholic Institutional Identity” at Catholic Theological College, which was thought provoking and insightful, along with reading and hearing about the “political chatter” surrounding funding to Catholic schools, the question of Catholic identity has never been more relevant.
We have been informed as a school we are soon to be undertaking the Enhancing Catholic Identity Survey for Catholic Education Melbourne and The Catholic Education Commission of Victoria. The survey and subsequent analysis of its results will give us a comprehensive picture of how we view our school as being “Catholic”. When we place this into the framework of our current practices and then consider things like the many new students and families and staff we have just welcomed into the college coming from various backgrounds and places, and then, the personal questions we can reflect on such as “what are we about as a Catholic school?; “do we make a difference?”; “does our vision, mission, and charism as a Catholic school still hold relevancy in 2019?”, the picture evolves.
We can look up much research, read many articles and books (as I did at uni), and go to hear many speakers, but what do you and I think is a Catholic School’s identity and purpose? Indeed, what is our purpose here at Salesian College Sunbury? Do we make a difference to student outcomes and how? We would all agree, bottom line, that we are about student learning. All we do here at Salesian College Sunbury is for the purpose of students learning. We want our students to be engaged in acquiring new skills and knowledge to equip them as 21st century learners with inquiring minds through approaches such as Project Based Learning. But more than this, new behaviours, new values, new beliefs, and new attitudes must also be a highly desirable outcome for us. And, all this to the highest possible standards. These new behaviours, values, attitudes, and beliefs are not necessarily the same as other non-Catholic schools. This is where we are different and do make a difference in students outcomes. As the National Catholic Education Commission said only a few years ago, “the goal of Catholic schools is to educate the whole child to the highest standards possible – academically, socially, spiritually, and pastorally.”
Here at Salesian College Sunbury, we can see this reflected in our key documents such as our Annual Action Plans, our CLEF statements, and forward planning for 2030, which has just commenced. As we say, we are “a Faith Community committed to Excellence in Learning” (CLEF values). I would suggest that most - if not all - educational institutions would say they are committed to excellence in learning. However, where we really do make a difference in Catholic education is in the “Faith” aspect, which is the values, attitudes, and beliefs of students. We must work hard at all times to be academically excellent in all we do with students but it’s the Catholic beliefs that make us different – we believe in God, in Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we believe in salvation and redemption and Eternal Life, we believe in living the Gospel values, we believe in fulfilment in a sacramental life, we believe in the veneration of our saints, and a faith that is joyfully proclaimed and lived.
We wish to make these Catholic beliefs very clear to all here at the College; we have an extensive RE Curriculum; a liturgical program of sacraments and prayer with both staff and students; we have wonderful visual symbols; we consider restorative justice to be the optimal way to deal with relationships and student issues; we have Campus Feast days; we have staff and students retreats; we have Accreditation to Teach in a Catholic School certification requirements for teaching staff; and we have our own personal commitment to the beliefs of the Catholic Church.
For me, this is where we make a difference to student outcomes; there is a God who loves and saves us, a God who is present in our daily lives journeying with us, our students are made in the image of God and given to us for a short few years. They are given to us to make a difference in their lives – to help them acquire and develop their belief systems, their attitudes, and their values based on this belief system.
We should therefore always be asking ourselves, as a ‘Faith Community’ do we communicate to our students and others, our belief in God and in Jesus Christ, and model this with our attitudes and values? This is what the Catholic Identity Survey will allow us to discover this.
In a few short weeks, families will be invited to complete the survey, as will all students and staff at the college. Details will follow in the next few weeks. The survey is important. There is little doubt that we will be given a narrative to work with for 2020 and beyond.
Read an update from Acting Principal, Mrs Angela Romano
An update from our Principal, Mr Mark Brockhus, as we prepare to commence the 2019 school year.
Cricket great, Darren Lehmann, visited last week as part of our Ashes Oval Redevelopment Project and our Father's Day Breakfast