At a time when many Catholic parents - and not a few teachers - seem to have lost sight of the essential purpose of a Catholic school, being concerned more about the secular rather than the moral and spiritual aspects of education, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide's recent words to a group of teachers and teacher trainees about to enter the Catholic system for the 2004 school year were a timely reminder of the Church's educational priorities.
The Archbishop pointed out that the main focus of a Catholic education was not primarily Year 12 exam success or university entrance. "What we are concerned with is what happens to people when they die," he said. "We want people to be able to develop their relationship with God and with the Church while they're alive and then to be prepared for eternal life".
He added: "I understand why people see the final exam in school as being highly significant but I think we don't do them a service if we get them to think that's the beginning and end of everything".
While it was important to emphasise academic development and other areas of education, there were "other things", e.g., "about the way that people live their human lives, what they do in terms of their relationships in the world and where they find meaning".
Of prime importance for those who attended Catholic schools was learning about "the skills that link them with the Lord" and having the "opportunity to find happiness and peace in the world". A Catholic education needed to be "formed by values that belong to the Catholic Church."
The challenge Archbishop Wilson has presented for Adelaide's Catholic schools and their teachers - and one which is relevant and urgent Australia-wide - is for them to re-examine their priorities, ensuring there is a genuinely Catholic emphasis in the curriculum and that what is taught in the Church's name is based on authentic Catholic values.
- Michael Gilchrist: Editor (E-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org)