Educational Theory: Ideas that Matter - What is Catholic Education?

As parents and educators, our final and most important goal is for our children to know Christ and to reach Heaven. Everything we do relates to this directly or indirectly. Another way to look at it is that we want to help our children develop the “lens of faith” through which they view and understand their entire lives.

In the broadest sense, education includes all those experiences by which intelligence is developed, knowledge acquired, and character formed. … The child is born with latent capacities which must be developed so as to fit him for the activities and duties of life. The meaning of life, therefore, of its purposes and values as understood by the educator, primarily determines the nature of his work. Education aims at an ideal, and this in turn depends on the view that is taken of man and his destiny, of his relations to God, to his fellowmen, and to the physical world. The content of education is furnished by the previous acquisition of mankind in literature, art, and science, in moral, social, and religious principles…. Teaching must be adapted to the needs of the developing mind, and the endeavour to make the adaption more thorough results in theories and methods which are, or should be, based on the findings of biology, physiology, and psychology. (1913 Catholic Encyclopedia)

The Church is bound as a mother to give to these children of hers an education by which their whole life can be imbued with the spirit of Christ. (Declaration on Christian Education - Vatican II)

All education is directed, as its final goal, toward knowing, loving and serving God.

Catholic culture should permeate their studies and their environment – not in a superficial way, but a substantial way so that reason reinforces the faith and allows students to practice application of their faith to their lives.

It is necessary not only that religious instruction be given to the young at certain fixed times, but also that every other subject taught, be permeated with Christian piety. If this is wanting, if this sacred atmosphere does not pervade and warm the hearts of masters and scholars alike, little good can be expected from any kind of learning, and considerable harm will often be the consequence. (Leo XIII, Militantis Ecclesiae)

Why should we educate?

  • Form Convictions
  • Develop the Intellect
  • Provide Knowledge, Insight and Perspective
  • Form Character
  • Cultivate Virtues

Our children need to develop a “lens of faith” through which they can view the world and make judgments and decisions (includes, but is not limited to a well-formed conscience). This includes an appreciation and conviction regarding the good and the true as well as a “skeptometer” to help filter out what is wrong. The “lens of faith” requires knowledge and application.

Here are some great thoughts on the idea of Catholic Education:

"The most basic element … is parental love, which finds fulfillment in the task of education as it completes and perfects its service of life."
(Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio)

"To educate means to help someone understand the elements of reality in their fruitful multiplying, up to a totality which is always the true horizon of our actions."
(Msgr. Luigi Giussani, The Risk of Education)

"It should be the objective and is definitely the responsibility of every rational Catholic mother and father to see that the child is educated, so that he can be truly Catholic with the consent of all his faculties."
(Francis Crotty, Implementation of Ignatian Education in the Home)

"…in the Divine solicitude for children was the affirmation that there are certain elements in childhood which ought to be preserved in the highest manhood; that no man is truly great unless he can recapture something of the simplicity and humility of the child."
(Archbishop Fulton Sheen)

"Who does not know that to teach a child to feed himself, to wash and dress himself, is a much more tedious and difficult work, calling for infinitely greater patience, than feeding, washing and dressing the child one's self? But the former is the work of an educator, the latter is the easy and inferior work of a servant. Not only is it easier for the mother, but it is very dangerous for the child, since it closes the way and puts obstacles in the path of the life which is developing."
(Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method)

"Our Lord wants us all to be the leaven in the dough of society. But He wants us to do this when we are properly prepared. Our job as parents is to prepare our children to be ready for the service to which God will call them. We need to furnish the children's minds and hearts with the true, the good and the beautiful, so that they may speak "in season and out of season" of the faith they have been given."
(Laura Berquist, "Character Formation," Sursum Corda, Fall 1998)

"Catholic education is the comprehensive system of interior formation which is ordered throughout by the concept and confidence in the Incarnation. The mystery of the Incarnation itself rests on an orderly sense of Creation and the confidence it gives is sustained in the face of sin by faith in the mystery of the Cross of Jesus."
(Mary Daly, Essay on a Curriculum for the Culture of Life)

"It is necessary not only that religious instruction be given to the young at certain fixed times, but also that every other subject taught, be permeated with Christian piety. If this is wanting, if this sacred atmosphere does not pervade and warm the hearts of masters and scholars alike, little good can be expected from any kind of learning, and considerable harm will often be the consequence."
(Pius XI, On Christian Education)

"Unless a man's will has a purpose and it is a good one, education will do nothing for him except to fortify his own egotism."
(Archbishop Fulton Sheen)

"God wouldn't have given us an intellect if he didn't want us to think straight."
(Msgr. Ronald Knox)

"No amount of pious training or pious culture will protect the faithful, or preserve them from the contamination of the age, if they are left inferior to non-Catholics in secular learning and intellectual development. The faithful must be guarded and protected by being trained and disciplined to grapple with the false systems of the age…. They must be better armed than their opponents - surpass them in the strength and vigor of their minds, and in the extent and variety of their knowledge. They must, on all occasions and against all adversaries, be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in them."
(Orestes Brownson, "Catholic Polemics")

"Hence every form of pedagogic naturalism …Every method of education founded, wholly or in part, on the denial or forgetfulness of original sin and of grace, and relying on the sole powers of human nature, is unsound. …If any of these terms are used, less properly, to denote the necessity of a gradually more active cooperation on the part of the pupil in his own education… this would be correct, but in no way new. It would mean only what has been taught and reduced to practice by the Church … in imitation of the method employed by God Himself towards His creatures, of whom He demands active cooperation according to the nature of each."
(Pope Pius XI, On Christian Education)

"True followers of Christ were meant to be at odds with the world: The pure of heart will be laughed at by the Freudians; the meek will be scorned by the Marxists; the humble will be walked on by the go-getters; the liberal Sadducees will call them reactionaries; the reactionary Pharisees will call them liberals."
(Archbishop Fulton Sheen)

"Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery-- the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the "material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones." Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them."
(The Catechism of the Catholic Church #2223)

"If it be true that the world has lost its respect for authority, it is only because it lost it first in the home."
(Archbishop Fulton Sheen)

"We teach our children more effectively when we develop our interior life with God, learn the Faith better through ongoing scriptural and catechetical instruction, and grow in virtue."
(Hahn & Hasson, Catholic Education: Homeward Bound)

"The key to successful Catholic homeschooling is living the sacramental life."
(Mary Kay Clark, Catholic Home Schooling)

"Besides giving an example of personal holiness, we can encourage maturity and spiritual growth in our children by providing ample opportunity for them to grow steadily in unselfish ways. Virtue and vice are both habits, learned through repetition. Help your child to learn early in life the good habits of virtue, first through service to his family then in going out of himself to love and serve his neighbor."
(Catholic Heritage Curricula, 3rd Grade Lesson Plans)

"All knowledge is sterile which does not lead to action and end in charity."
(Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier)

"There is little point in keeping children out of Hell if you don't afford them the means of getting into Heaven. So give them solid catechetics, strong preaching, good example, healthy exercise, supervision in a general and determinant way but not in each particular and by all means permitting them the freedom of the good, dangerous books as well as the dangerous games such as football, or mountain climbing. Given the state of man, some will break their necks and sin; but in good Catholic families with common sense, the falls should be few and the bodies and souls recoverable."
(John Senior, The Restoration of Christian Culture)

"... the rights of the family and of the State, even the rights of individuals regarding a just liberty in the pursuit of science, of methods of science and all sorts of profane culture, not only are not opposed to this pre-eminence of the Church, but are in complete harmony with it. The fundamental reason for this harmony is that the supernatural order, to which the Church owes her rights, not only does not in the least destroy the natural order, to which pertain the other rights mentioned, but elevates the natural and perfects it, each affording mutual aid to the other, and completing it in a manner proportioned to its respective nature and dignity. The reason is because both come from God, who cannot contradict Himself."
(Pope Pius XI, On Christian Education)

"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried."
(G.K. Chesterton, "What's Wrong with the World")

Related Links:

"A Curriculum Based on the Principle of the Incarnation" by Mary Daly
An Essay on the Culture of Life: How to build a curriculum which reflects and nurtures the culture of life which is based upon the principle of the Incarnation.

Declaration on Christian Education - Gravissimum Educationis
Proclaimed by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965


Pius XI, Divini illius magistri (31/12/1939)