Catholic School Identity Assessment

“Evangelization is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14).

These words from Pope Paul VI perfectly summarize the core of the Church’s identity. She has been given the supreme privilege of proclaiming God’s message of love, mercy and salvation for His people. She is called to be the mediator of salvific grace to the world. Such gifts cannot be hidden. By its very nature they must be shared.

Throughout the centuries, the Church has developed many ways, many methods for evangelizing, for sharing God’s saving message and grace. One of the most effective is the Catholic School.

By nature and design, the Catholic School is equipped with the necessary tools for proclaiming the Gospel and ensuring that its students have every opportunity to accept this ineffable gift.

In contemporary society, the Church finds its mission and importance as salient as ever. People throughout the world hunger for God’s word and His grace through the Sacraments of the Church. Therefore, the Church expends significant resources to build schools to help people learn about God’s love so they might respond better to that love and ultimately share it with a world that needs it so desperately.

In our country, we have been blessed with a vast network of Catholic Schools that serve students at every conceivable level from preschool through postgraduate studies. Catholics expend great effort to ensure that these schools are well staffed and funded, are academically excellent and provide students with activities that help them become well-rounded persons. In fact, these aspects are so important to the well being of a Catholic School, ways have been developed to measure empirically a school’s progress and success in each of these critical areas.

However, none of the areas listed above (funding, academic excellence, and success in extracurricular activities) is the defining aspect of a Catholic school. Most schools strive to achieve success in these areas. The defining aspect of a Catholic School, that which separates it from every other kind of educational institution or enterprise, is its Catholic identity.

With the pervasiveness of religious indifferentism and incessant turmoil about the role of religion in our society, there is a greater need than ever today to ensure that our schools’ defining quality is assessed. Are Catholic Schools fulfilling their primary mission to proclaim faithfully the Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the Catholic Church?

Running a Catholic school today is challenging for many reasons. On the spiritual level, young Catholics are constantly confronted by values antithetical to those of the Church. This causes tension within young people, who are already struggling with issues of self-identity and looking for meaning in their lives.

That is why a Catholic School is perfectly positioned to provide the spiritual guidance that young people so greatly need and which they desperately seek. When a Catholic School fails in its mission to help students grow in love of God and others, the consequences can be disastrous.

The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education recognizes this reality by way of admonition and encouragement in its document Education in a Catholic School:

For some of today’s youth, the years spent in a Catholic school seem to have scarcely any effect. They seem to have negative attitudes toward all the various ways in which a Christian life is expressed—prayer, participation in the Mass, or frequenting of the Sacraments. Some even reject these expressions outright especially those associated with an institutional Church. If a school is excellent as an academic institution, but does not witness to authentic values, then both good pedagogy and a concern for pastoral care make it obvious that renewal is called for—not only in the content and methodology of religious instruction, but in the overall school planning which governs the whole process of formation of the students (19).

The Catholic Education Initiative endeavors to provide Catholic Schools with a means for evaluating and assessing the success of its primary mission. The tool it uses to accomplish this is the Catholic School Identity Assessment (CSIA).

The CSIA is an innovative program designed to provide a Catholic School with several options for assessing its Catholic identity. A school can choose from three levels of evaluation, depending on the depth of analysis it desires.

The goal is to provide the Catholic School a means for 1) self-reflection by its administration, faculty and staff on how each of them works to support the Catholic identity of the school, and 2) provide the school with feedback from an independent third-party using a standard, objective set of criteria.

Because these standards are uniform and objective, this allows the opportunity for a school to measure its progress longitudinally, to chart over the course of years how well it is adhering to its primary mission. As part of each assessment, CEI will offer the school a set of conceptual and concrete recommendations that can be reassessed periodically.

In essence, CEI wants to help Catholic Schools create an environment in which Catholic culture not only thrives but permeates every aspect of the school’s life. The CSIA can help Catholic Schools form a concrete plan of action for creating this environment, to give glory to God and help its students love God above all things and their neighbors as themselves.

The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education sums it up perfectly this way:

From the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic school, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith, and having its own unique characteristics. The Council summed this up by speaking of an environment permeated with the gospel spirit of love and freedom (Education in a Catholic School, 25).

©2009 Catholic Education Initiative


Promoting Schools' Catholic Identity Key to Their Survival, Leaders Say

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Promoting Catholic identity in Catholic high schools and elementary schools is not just a good thing to do but a necessary action for survival, according to speakers at a conference in Washington for Catholic school leaders.

The speakers noted candidly that the participants in the Oct. 2-4 conference at The Catholic University of America knew full well the challenges currently facing Catholic schools such as dwindling enrollments, rising expenses, and closures or threats to close.

But speakers at the "Catholic Identity of Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools" conference also noted that these diocesan superintendents, college professors, high school principals and education researchers also are fully aware that Catholic schools have something unique to offer students that extends far beyond quality academics or even a faith-based education.

Bishop David M. O'Connell of Trenton, N.J., and former president of Catholic University, stressed that the mission of Catholic schools is to "proclaim the good news" and provide a "place to encounter God."

This has not changed, he said, "since Jesus told his disciples to go and teach all nations."

The bishop stressed that the mission or Catholic identity aspect of Catholic schools is "not a mere add on" but something that is fundamental to their very existence and sets them apart from other schools.

If Catholic schools aren't inspiring, engaging and changing lives, he said, they are "simply schools, that's all." Instead, they need to be places of learning that are "willing to educate and transmit faith in ways that are unambiguous."

Bishop O'Connell noted that this kind of dedication isn't just for religion classes either, but something that needs to take place throughout the curriculum, on the playground, and in faculty and parent meetings. He said teachers and administrators set this tone and thus advised school administrators to hire teachers who believe in the school's mission and to follow up with faith formation training programs and support to these teachers during the year.

He also said bishops should be visiting the schools in their dioceses to make sure the "faith-oriented needs are met" and should make the decision to close a school only as a last resort.

During a question-and-answer session, the bishop was asked what schools could do when the Catholic identity that they highlight doesn't seem to be something parents necessarily want.

The bishop responded by saying priests and other Catholic leaders need to "be shameless about promoting Catholic education."

College leaders who spoke at the conference sponsored by Catholic University and St. John's University in Queens, N.Y., said they saw the link between the work of Catholic higher education and Catholic elementary and secondary schools.

There is a "kinship between our enterprises," said John Garvey, president of Catholic University, who noted that all Catholic schools not only share the same mission but face the same challenges including the decline in the number of religious and the rising influence of secular trends.

Vincentian Father Donald Harrington, president of St. John's University, noted that "for too long there has been a great divide between Catholic higher education and elementary and secondary schools." He said "great things will happen" when these groups cooperate especially since they "share the sacred trust of educating young people."

To this end, Catholic colleges are conducting studies on Catholic education, providing student mentors at Catholic schools and offering teacher training and leadership programs for Catholic school teachers. He said St. John's also gives tuition discounts for applicants who are Catholic high school graduates.

Father Harrington noted that Catholic college leaders have thought long and hard about Catholic identity through their work in implementing "Ex Corde Ecclesiae," an apostolic constitution issued by Pope John Paul II that identifies the mission of Catholic higher education.

He said Catholic colleges should share their resources with their younger counterparts, "not out of charity but from the belief that this is important" and to "do all we can to support and continue Catholic education."

Carol Zimmermann

October 5, 2011

Catholic News Service