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 "What is Catholic Education?"

By Ruben Beltran


"What is Catholic Education?"  The Second Vatican Council’s Gravissimum Educationis (Declaration on Christian Education) insists that “a true education aims at the formation of the human person in the pursuit of his ultimate end and of the good of the societies of which he is a member and in whose obligations as an adult he will share.”  The same document speaks of helping young people “to develop harmoniously their physical, moral, and intellectual endowments,” and it insists they get it. 

The Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education defines a school as “a place of integral formation by means of a systematic and critical assimilation of culture.” Integral means all the pieces are there and they fit together. Formation means education concerns the kind of person one becomes, not just what one knows.  In other words, it concerns intellectual and moral knowledge but also virtues—habits of acting for the true, the good, and the beautiful. Integral formation also includes spiritual formation. The integral formation of the human person, which is the purpose of education, includes the development of all the human faculties of the students, together with preparation for professional life, formation of ethical and social awareness, and religious education.” 

In short, this document speaks of liberal education; that is, the education of the “free man,” the person who knows his mind and exercises virtue; someone who seeks the true, the good, and the beautiful in his own pursuit of happiness and in his contribution to that of others.  The Church presupposes all of that when she speaks of Catholic or Christian education. 

The proper function of Catholic education involves evangelization and discipleship training for life. As the "Declaration on Catholic Education" states:  “A Christian education…has as its principal purpose this goal: that the baptized become ever more aware of the gift of faith they have received and that they learn  how to worship God, especially in liturgical action, and be conformed in their personal lives. Also, that they develop in the fullness of Christ and strive for the growth of the Mystical Body; that they are aware of their calling and learn not only how to bear witness to the hope that is in them, but also how to help in the Christian formation of the world.” 

Notice that the principal purpose of Catholic education is to form disciples—people who know and follow Christ and make Him known. Not excellence in education, as important as that is; not equipping students to have successful careers, however valuable that may be. But forming disciples.  Do our students know Jesus, follow Him and share Him with others? In our zeal for academic excellence, do we obscure or minimize the evangelical purpose of our schools? How many leaders of Catholic schools can honestly say their institutions are principally about forming educated disciples?  The “education part” of Catholic education must keep the “Catholic part” honest when it comes to the formation of the whole person, including the intellectual dimension. This helps Catholic education avoid becoming a glorified Bible study or apologetics program. When that happens, the “Catholic part” of Catholic education suffers, too. Vital dimensions of the student’s life are not fully developed in light of the Gospel because they’re not developed or adequately developed. The minds and wills God gave young people to exercise and grow are stunted. 

But the “Catholic part” of Catholic education must keep the “education part” honest, too. Otherwise, Catholic schools may achieve academic excellence but at the expense of forming disciples. Ironically, such education is less than full academic excellence, for it has shaped the student without regard for his ultimate end—union with God.  Catholic education must form the whole person according to intellectual, moral and physical excellence. But all of that must be ordered to the formation of genuine disciples of Jesus—people who know Him, love Him and serve Him.

 That’s what makes Catholic Education Catholic.

Article No. 13  (Published in the Bulletin of April 26, 2015)



 “Creating the ability to think is our goal in a classical curriculum; we want our children to acquire the art of learning. It is not the number of facts they are acquainted with that measure the educational success, but what they are able to do with the facts: whether they are able to make distinctions, to follow an argument, to make reasonable deductions from the facts, and finally, to have the right judgment about the way things are.”  — Laura Berquist (Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum)  

A Classical Education:  

·   Teaches the Child How to Think  

·   Follows the Child's Natural Stages of Learning  

·   Takes Account of the Child's Individual Needs  

·   Supports the Spiritual Formation of the Child  

·   Allows the Parents to Play an Integral Role  


A Classical Education Creates:  

·   Learners who have the knowledge and ability to perform independent research.  

·   Students who are effective Communicators  

·   Students who are able to read and comprehend diverse written materials. 

·   Students who demonstrate rhetorical and analytical skills in their written work.  

·   Students who express themselves with confidence in written communication.  

·   Students who are independent thinkers  

·   Students who are able to analyze information, and form and explain their own opinions     

A classical education will give our children the beginning of the education every educated person in Western Civilization once received, a classical or liberal arts education. The idea is to educate the students so that they develops all the powers of their souls, and their minds are formed, strengthened, and developed.  The end of this educational process is wisdom. Man desires by nature to know, and that means we want to have not only the facts, but the reasons for the facts. We want to think about the most noble things, the most interesting in themselves.  Therefore, the goal of education is to teach children how to think; to help them learn the art of learning. If children learn how to learn, they will be to master any subject.  Thinking can be done well or badly, but one can be taught to do it well. In large measure, the role of the teacher of grade and high school children is this: teaching children to think well. It begins in wonder and aims at wisdom.  

The tools of learning, through which children learn the art of learning, are acquired by concentrating, at each stage of intellectual formation, on the areas of development that are appropriate to that stage in the child’s intellectual and spiritual development.  Further, all we do will be faithful to the doctrine and teaching of the Catholic Church, which shall enlighten and inform all the areas of the curriculum. 

Article No. 13 (Published in the Bulletin of April 26, 2015)