Catholic parents are usually grateful that their children are enrolled in Catholic schools. Often they punctuate their expression of thanks with the remark that “at least there I know my kids are getting some instruction in the Catholic faith.” When I hear such remarks, I get the impression that sometimes parents think that a school is Catholic because of religious instruction and that the “school part,” the rest of the curriculum, is outside of Catholic learning, only a vehicle in which catechism happens to ride as a passenger. Now, while we certainly celebrate that Catholic schools train children in the faith, we may still caution parents not to overlook something important: a Catholic school is or should be Catholic in the whole of its curriculum, not just in the part specific to religious instruction. For, while catechism is at the center of Catholic education, the substance of the Catholic school involves religious instruction and more besides.
This follows naturally when one considers that the aim of Catholic schooling is development of the whole person. To fulfill its mission, a Catholic school must do justice to the complex vision of the human person emanating from the Gospels. This vision includes our spiritual destiny, but it includes our natural state as well. Human beings are first natural creatures, who are called by their Christian faith to a spiritual life. But one does not rule out or defeat the other. A basic Catholic teaching is that grace perfects nature; it does not destroy or replace it.