As another academic year commences, it is timely to reflect once more on the overall state of our Catholic schools and what is needed for a turning of the spiritual tide.
In recent years there have been encouraging signs that Church authorities are taking serious steps to ensure that Catholic schools fulfil the purpose for which they were originally established. Following decades of experimentation with religion teaching and the inroads of 'relevance', the knowledge and practice of the faith have predictably declined among school leavers.
At a time when secularism increasingly shapes the mind-sets of the Church's membership and fewer families are able to fulfil their 'domestic church' role as the primary educators of children, more responsibility than ever falls on Catholic schools to equip the new generations spiritually in the face of formidable challenges to their faith.
An important milestone in this regard was the launching a decade ago of new RE texts with a stronger focus on doctrinal content under the direction of Archbishop Pell in Melbourne, with Msgr (now Bishop) Peter Elliott playing a key role in this project as Episcopal Vicar for Religious Education.
The use of these texts has continued in Sydney under Cardinal Pell (following his appointment there in 2001) and several NSW dioceses have taken the texts on board. One hopes more Australian dioceses follow suit.
In 2007, the Pastoral Plan for the Sydney Archdiocese and the Pastoral Letter of the Bishops of NSW and ACT both set in place strategies for gradually enhancing the spiritual calibre of Catholic schools, particularly through an improved practice level among teachers and a closer liaison with parishes.
But as Chris Hilder rightly points out in his article (see page 10), while these are important and necessary steps towards recovering the Catholic system's 'salt', it is also vital that schools educate the 'whole' person with a coherent and consistent world view animating the entire gamut of each school's daily program. That remains a further challenge for our schools in 2008.
Michael Gilchrist is Editor of AD2000 (email address available on request).