A Word From the Fellows
Catholic schools are the frontlines of the New Evangelization. Many Catholic school students either have never heard the Gospel or need to hear it again in its full richness. Yet, many leaders in the Church, particularly bishops, either do not realize this or are afraid to stress the need for evangelization in the schools. Besides the risk of alienating their rich atheistic donors, perhaps they’re concerned about tension and pushback from administrators and faculty who do not see evangelization as part of the school’s mission. But so be it. What is the point of having Catholic schools if evangelization is absent? It is important that we recognize this now because there is no better place for reaching the religiously unaffiliated than in the Church’s schools.
Based on anecdotal evidence, I think it is safe to say that most Catholic school students are predominantly non-practicing Catholics (at least not attending Sunday Mass) or religiously unaffiliated. The latter will likely increase within student bodies in the coming years, assuming Catholic schools continue to exist. Some administrators and faculty are reluctant to stress evangelization, referring to surveys that do not find the faith to be a reason why parents choose to send their kids to Catholic school. These surveys often list community, academic excellence, and extracurriculars as the primary reasons parents send their kids to Catholic schools. But the school should be doing everything possible to make its Catholic identity the main reason for attending. Again, why should the Church be interested in maintaining educational institutions vaguely connected to the faith?
Perhaps I am too radical, but the schools that seek to cater to what the parents want while neglecting the proclamation of the Gospel should be closed down or stripped of their Catholic name by the local bishop. I think people would be surprised to learn that parents and students are often not offended by the Gospel but want to learn more. Boldly and richly placing the Gospel at the heart of the school’s mission could be the key to the school’s success. But first, administrators and faculty need to be formed in what evangelization in the school looks like. That’s where the Word on Fire Institute comes in.
My hope is that Word on Fire Institute will take the lead here, forming teachers to proclaim and articulate the splendor of Christ to their students in all their teaching. This is for the good of the students, who as humans ultimately desire to behold the face of God, the ultimate horizon of all intelligibility and desire, the finality of the educational task. That’s why Catholic schools are suited to fulfill the educational and formative task better than any other type of school. But will Catholic schools live up to this potential? Not if they water down the proclamation of the Gospel, confusing it with secular versions of its social teaching or merely stressing vague “Gospel values” that often are merely the fashionable values of the day. Word on Fire intends to subvert that and help educators see the classroom as mission territory. Let us pray that our efforts will bear much fruit.