Gerard O'Shea

Teaching the faith in Catholic schools: a valuable new resource

Leonardo Franchi (Editor)
(Gracewing/Freedom Publishing, 2012, 252pp, $30.00, ISBN: 978-0-85244-757-4. Available from Freedom Publishing)

The essential message of  A Companion to Catholic Education is summed up on the back cover in a quote by Pope Benedict XVI: "A good school provides a rounded education for the whole person. A Catholic school, over and above this, should help students to become saints."

But let's not delude ourselves: for many years, this is not what we have witnessed in large parts of the world, including our own country.  Let's just examine some statistics.

In our own country, a 2006 investigation into the attitudes of  Generation Y found that less than 3% of recent graduates from Catholic schools participated regularly in the Sunday Eucharist while  r elativism was identified as their predominant philosophy, namely that an individual's views and preferences, provided they harm no-one else, should not be questioned or constrained, and that spiritual or religious beliefs and practices are purely personal lifestyle choices  which are in no way necessary.

In 2010 Benedict XVI acknowledged this problem to journalist Peter Seewald who asked him how it was possible that, despite spending years in Catholic schools, students in the Western world seem to end up knowing more about Buddhism than their own faith. The Pope replied: "That is a question I also ask myself. Every child in Germany has nine to thirteen years of religion in school. Why, in spite of that, so very little sticks, if I may put it like that, is incomprehensible."

It would be both ungracious and inaccurate of me not to acknowledge the efforts made in more recent years by many in our Catholic Church in Australia to try to turn this around. I think for example of the work of Cardinal Pell, Archbishop Hart and Bishop Elliott in bringing forth the  To Know, Worship and Love for Catholic schools, and I look at the inroads on Catholic youth culture being made by  World Youth Day, the  Thomas More Centre,  Six-Thirty and  Theology On Tap.

We can look also at the efforts being made in tertiary institutions like the John Paul II Institute, Campion College and the University of Notre Dame in Sydney.

Despite all of this, however, we know that we have much more to do. This book,  A Companion to Catholic Education, is an attempt to add yet another tool to aid us in the greatest cause ever known - preaching the Gospel to every creature, in this case by spreading it into the domain of educational theory and practice.

The book takes up this task on two levels: theological knowledge and application to practice. The contributors cover a wide variety of subjects and bring different levels of expertise to the project - differences of both degree and kind.

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