The parish priest and parish school

The parish priest and parish school

Fr John O'Neill

The parish priest is to have a special care for the Catholic education of children and young people (Canon 528/1). The diocesan bishop has the responsibilty of ensuring that schools embued with the Christian spirit are established (Canon 802/1).

In establishing a Catholic School in his parish, or, upon appointment, taking over pastoral care of one already established, the parish priest acts on behalf of his bishop.

The authority of the bishop who is the Ordinary of a diocese, working through his parish priests to establish schools, has the highest and most solemn origin, Christ Himself, who commanded His first priests, the Apostles, to "Go, teach all nations ..."

Catholic schools are the chief means by which bishops and their priests fulfil their God-given obligation to bring the Gospel to children. At the same time they are obliged to avail themselves of all opportunities to teach the Faith in state schools or through any extra-school instruction system.

Priests' responsibilities

Priests are ordained to do three things: to teach, to govern and to sanctify.

It is essential for us who bear this truly awesome office to realise what is its nature, or better, Who is its nature, for the priest is nothing less than Christ Himself continuing that threefold sacred task in the world, and even more, maintaining His divine presence in the world.

Was it Saint Francis himself who said that if he met an angel and a priest together, he would salute the priest first. What an eloquent summary of the priest is contained in that ancient and simple phrase: Sacerdos alter Christus (The priest is another Christ).

No person or institution has the right or authority to presume they can "take over" what the parish priest may legitimately, if carefully, claim as "his" school. Parish priests need to keep in mind, and exercise in practice, their authority over the parish school. However, one has to ask whether or not pastors in some places have allowed themselves to become non-entities in regard to their schools.

Presuming we have maintained Catholic orthodoxy in ourselves, it is incumbent upon us, especially in these times when vague content and ineffective teaching methods have characterised religious education programs, to insist on and see to the proper training of children in our glorious Catholic Faith.

The sainted Pontiff, John Paul II, so insisted in his Apostolic Exhortation of 1979, C atechesi Tradendae: "The flowers of piety cannot grow in the desert places of a memoryless catechesis," which admonition exposes the years of faulty teaching in religion.

For a long time it was "me centred", not Christ-centred. The psychologists told the educationists that parrots could memorise, and so learning by heart was left aside, the technical and holy words that enwrapped the content of Revelation were left aside.

Motor mechanics and builders and chefs kept their terminology: you cannot drive a car if you don't know the difference bewteen a brake and an accelerator; and so sacred concepts were lost to our young. I have challenged the best of our youth, and though prayerful and noble, they could not tell me what the Mass was in essence, or, indeed, express intelligently the meaning of the essential truths of the Faith.

Most tragically, Jesus Christ has become vague to many, and so the heart of the Faith is in grave danger, and His rising more difficult than that of the first Easter morn.

All sorts of programs were produced, one priest describing them as "fairy floss": hard to chew and no nourishment (How uncharitable! Nay, how accurate!) and among the ruins of our ancient teaching achievements there arose the lofty towers of the education bureaus.

Like kidnappers, they stole the priest's schools and hid the children from the Truth. Even the appointment of principals and deputies was all but abrogated from us, except from one pastor who knew the source of his authority.

What a hide that man must have: when a principal retired, he actually wrote to the bureau's chief, informing him that he had appointed the successor, doing the same in the case of an assistant principal.

He did "go through the motions" of the meetings with the bureaucrats and the others they required, but began the meetings of "election" by stating that he had already chosen so-and-so for the position, having interviewed all applicants himself, at his presbytery, over a nice afternoon tea. He was not prepared to make decisions over people's lives on the evidence of a curriculum vitae or written references.

He wanted to get some idea of what sort of people they were. The bureaucratic system was that each member of "the board" voted on the candidates, votes were added and appointments made. "Father" was told later that "he had upset the protocols of the bureau". He answered with one word: "Good!"

Sound teaching

It was significant that the bureau accepted his decisions. They had no choice: they knew he was right. Would that all parish priests would so get involved and so use their authority, but only if orthodoxy and sound teaching of the Faith are to be preserved.

Our Lord told those first priests: "Go, teach", not "Go, found bureaus", which, as far as this priest can discern, do not even rate a mention in Canon Law, and did not even exist in the halcyon days of armies of religious and no State Aid.

When the pioneer priests turned their horses' heads out west, they did not come across any Catholic schools; they did not find flourishing bureaus building and staffing schools; they did not run about looking for someone to do what they knew was part of their essential work; they had no such thing as diffidence in their make-up.

On the contrary, they trusted their faith-bred initiative and the good hearts of the Catholic pioneers, who threw in their "shillings of the poor", and well was their work imortalised by that great priest's words:

Our axes rang on timbered slopes above the mining flat, and church and school and convent mark the path of Father Pat.

Our good lay teachers have the habit of living in houses, rearing children, eating meals and wearing clothes, so salaries must be afforded.

State aid

Justice in state aid has made it possible for us to continue after the sad demise of the teaching orders. Such aid is essential.

It might be interesting to note, for historical accuracy's sake and not for politiacl reasons, that state aid to non-government schools was first raised at a NSW State ALP annual meeting in Sydney Town Hall, by a little Railways Union officer. Motion passed, the Heffron Government NSW gave the first aid, very little: four pounds per term but there it was.

The Menzies Federal Government followed suit with aid for building science blocks. Historians can easily verify this, or gainsay it. What an aid to finances it would be if a new "order" could be founded, not a religious one, but of single lay people who could live frugally, together or in their own homes, and devote themselves to getting the expertise required and taking on the teaching in our schools.

Dear brother parish priests, please know what authority you have as using it in regard to schools helps place Christ's holy priesthood where it should be: in the heart of the Church, and in the loving hearts of our children. The first, after parents, in ensuring that our children will always love Christ, is to make sure they know they are loved by His "other Christs" among them.

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