On March 13th 2013, I was overjoyed with the election of Pope Francis as the new leader of the Catholic Church, both as a committed catholic and an educator. I am excited of the focus of the Church as being an institute for the poorest of the poor, which is rather ironic in light of the lived message of Christ. I often wonder at times when and where it was that the Church lost some of its core direction to take this line. However, I understand the focus and am invigorated by it.
Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis humbles himself from the Jesuit order. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the order, the Jesuits were founded by St Ignatius of Loyola as the Society of Jesus in 1540 and grew rapidly in Europe to then spread around the world. The Society grew from the service to the poor, and into education. Today the Jesuits are charged with educating over 300 million and are the largest provider of education around the world Pre-Kindergarten to University.
In my work with the Jesuits last year as Head of Religious Education and Chaplain at St John’s Beaumont Jesuit Preparatory School in the UK, I came to admire the Society in so many aspects of their mission, particularly as an educator. Whilst the Catholic Church around the world begins to re-define itself in its ever-changing context, it looks to Catholic Education as its formative apostolic instrument. Parramatta Diocese Bishop, Anthony Fisher OP discusses in his address to priests and principals on 11th November 2010… How “Catholic Schools are Centres of the New Evangelisation”, a term first coined in the 2007 pastoral letter of the Bishops of NSW and the ACT “Catholic School’s at a Crossroads”.
Archbishop Bruguès OP in his address in June last year to over 1000 Leaders in Catholic Education in NSW and ACT spoke on this matter, urging for the strengthening of this evangelisation. Bruguès said that “Catholic educators needed to recognise both the humanistic and formative nature of Catholic schools”, at which I thoroughly agree.
However, there was one point of conjecture I had with the latter address which was in the following statement;
‘Former models which worked in the past have little relevancy nowadays,’ said Bruguès. ‘Indeed, pedagogy is a matter which is by nature, in constant evolution: one can no longer teach today in the same way as 40 or even 20 years ago. Therefore a Catholic school must adapt to these evolutions and even ‑ why not – anticipate upon them.’
Yes, in terms of teaching pedagogy and style I agree…. However, there was one exception to this rule, one which resonated strongly with me….
In September of 1980 a small group of Jesuits came from around the world and met in Rome to discuss Jesuit Secondary Education. Throughout the discussion, the topic changed to the distinctive nature of what Jesuit Education is. After four years of meetings under the guidance of Father Pedro Arrupe, who was then Superior General of the Society of Jesus, saw the eventual development of a document titled; “The Characteristics of Jesuit Education”(click to download). This document is a document not just for Jesuit Education, but for Catholic Education world-wide. It is a document, at which I believe Bishops and System Leaders need to take a closer look at. It has so many answers for us as Catholic educators and a miriad of future possibilities and directions. Appendix 2 is the short of it, however it really can not be read without the deeper understanding behind the whole document and the link to Christ’s teachings.
For a document that was written almost 30 years ago, the foresight of the Jesuits can offer not only direction for other Catholic educational institutions and systems, but also a reduction in time and energy in helping to develop their own direction in the current educational climate.
As the living embodiment of Christ, if we are a Church to serve the poorest of the poor then we need to do a better job at creating Men and Women for others in Christ’s image. There is no better document to employ, and it is one in which I hope to utilise in the future to its full effect.