Tom Kendell has been the Principal of Sacred Heart College, Oakleigh (Vic.), for 13 years. Under his leadership, Sacred Heart has enjoyed a reputation or its emphasis on solid grounding in the Catholic Faith and high standards in academic work, pastoral care, discipline, sport and cultural activities. This article is based on an address which Mr Kendell gave last November at a Catholics United for the Faith Conference.
The only real justification for a Catholic school is that it teaches orthodox Catholic doctrine. Catholic schools which do not teach the fundamentals of the Catholic faith should be closed.
While many Catholic schools provide such significant essentials of education as academic results, discipline and character development, these can also be obtained in good government schools. Collectively or singly, they do not justify separate existence from the State system unless the faith is taught.
Thirty years ago such a view was commonly held among Catholic educationalists and parents. It is quite appalling that today this traditional view of the purpose of the Catholic school has so few supporters. To a large extent, Catholic schools have become secularised.
In Victoria, the Catholic education system educates over 175,000 students - 21% of the State's school-age population - and operates 385 primary schools and 106 secondary schools. Most Catholic schools receive 80% of their operating income from State and Federal grants. Each student is worth approximately $3,000 per annum in government grants to most Catholic secondary schools and at least $1,000 per annum in tuition fees.
When enrolments fell, as they have done in a number of Catholic secondary schools in recent years, a significant number of schools enrolled non-Catholic students - for obvious financial reasons. This alarming trend was at least partly arrested a couple of years ago when the Archbishop of Melbourne announced clear restrictions on such non-Catholic enrolment. But the practice goes on.
It is reasonable to state that the higher the proportion of non-Catholic children in a Catholic school the harder it is to emphasise Catholic philosophy and teaching.
The Catholic ethos has been further reduced in some Catholic schools as a result of the increasing number of militant trade unionists among their teachers and by the fact that a number of these militants are non-Catholics or non-practising Catholics. This tends to obscure the fact that there are many dedicated non-Catholic and Catholic teachers in the system.
Apart from the educational disaster of the V.C.E., the Catholic school is required to deal with instruction in such topics as sexuality, alcohol, smoking, AIDS and homosexuality. Additionally, many dedicated teachers provide the pastoral care and love that student victims of broken homes need so much.
It is not surprising, considering the weight of these demands, that education in the faith is often neglected.
The degree to which it is neglected depends largely on the principal of the school. Perhaps we need a Catholic Don Haywood [Victorian Minister for Education] in our system, one who would close down schools that are not Catholic in the true sense of the word. This would allow the sacrifices of parents to be directed to those Catholic schools that do see the teaching of the Church's fundamental truths as their primary function, and the only reason that justifies their separate existence from the State system.
Unfortunately, the past track record of the majority of Catholic parents, in speaking out on issues vital to Catholic education, is not impressive. Most parents leave it all to a dedicated few who are often maligned if they state their concern. Parents as a whole are apathetic. If a principal calls a meeting of parents to discuss a new course, he or she is lucky to persuade 10% to attend.
It is the apathy of the majority of Catholic parents which is the greatest single factor in the decline of effective, traditional Catholic education. The result is that the majority of Catholic parents have the type of Catholic education that they deserve.
The passive and silent majority of Catholic parents has allowed a vociferous minority within parishes and schools to press for inclusive language and women priests. A destructive brand of feminism exists within the Church as well as without. Many good, practising Catholic parents have stood silently by and let this type of disease spread through our schools and parishes. Those who speak up in defence of the Church, the Pope and loyal clergy need to be supported.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear that an early and active role is required of parents in the education in faith of their children: "Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelising their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the 'first heralds' for their children. They should associate them, from their tenderest years, with the life of the Church" (2225, p.537).
Further, while stressing the role of parents as educators in the wider sense, the Catechism clearly indicates the right of parents to choose the school to which they send their children (2229, p.538): "As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible, parents have the duly of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise."
In view of the current apparent intentions of the Melbourne Catholic Education Office and some secondary principals to redefine the enrolment guidelines for entry into Catholic secondary schools at year 7, some parents may find that this right will be ignored in future. In the face of an enrolment drift to traditional Catholic schools in at least one area of the Archdiocese, there are attempts to preserve Catholic secondary schools which do not meet the requirements of Catholic parents.
A more effective partnership needs to be created between parents and principals and between schools and families if our Catholic children are to benefit. A further component to such a successful partnership is that of priest and parish, oriented to family and school.
If we could unite these components in support for, and implementation of, the wisdom and guidance contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church many of our fears for the future of the family and of Catholic education would be removed.