May this short work on education, intended for use by those working in the schools associated with the Congregation, attain the end that I proposed to myself in composing it: the formation of the hearts of young people and the development of a positive response toward religion within them. I have always understood the education of youth to be only this, and I have always been convinced that the first duty of any teacher is to produce Christians: Society has a greater need for people of values than it has for scholars. Knowledge itself does not bring about positive values, but positive values do influence knowledge and put it to a good use. If there ever existed a time when this type of education should be an influence in the lives of young people, it is certainly now-at a time when worldly and unchristian values seem to produce such confusion for the young. Christian education alone can influence the evil that we all experience in today’s world. Christian education alone can return people to the belief in and practice of Christianity by inspiring positive values in the coming generations.
In order to bring unity to our efforts in educating young people in the schools with which we are associated, I have organized the educational plan that is discussed in this work. I call it a plan because as of now it is really only an outline of how to reach the goals I mentioned in my Circular Letter of May 29, 1856. I intend to complete work in this effort after I have received any observations and responses that the Brothers may wish to make regarding this document.
Those who teach justice to many will shine like the stars for all eternity – Daniel XII: 3
Pedagogy derives from two Greek words-that for child and that for leading. It is the art of helping young people to completeness. For the Christian, this means that education is helping a young person to be more like Christ, the model for all Christians. From the word’s roots, we can interpret pedagogy to mean “leading a young person away from ignorance and disorder.” In this way it consists precisely in the reforming of human nature, which has been weakened by original sin. This reforming involves restoring to rational processes the light that existed before the fall of our first parents and then restoring to the heart the kinds of feelings and sentiments that ought to reside there. This notion of pedagogy is founded on the principles of Catholicism and makes educating young people a most important work for those who try to perform it-it truly makes education the art of arts.
It is very important that educators in our schools be trained in the art of education before trying to exercise the skill. It is an obligation of those in charge of the schools with which we are associated to help anyone who teaches at them. The educators will need direction to complete their preparation, because they will usually be unprepared to educate in the way I am describing. It is also important that those in charge of the schools with which we are associated understand the importance of this unified effort. Educators must also know what is involved in operating a school according to these principles. This belief, more than anything else, is what has inspired this document.
Years ago, in the beginning of my teaching career, my wife gave me a coffee mug that spoke to my heart: “Those who can, teach; those who can’t go into some less significant line of work.” As teachers, we have unique opportunities to help form the hearts and minds of the young, to help them enter more fully into the life of the Church, and to prepare them to live lives that will enlighten and inspire those who come to know them. Our students face so much confusion and so many seductive temptations that lead them to ruin or worthlessness as adults, and can imperil their hope of eternal life with God. A teacher who lovingly, firmly, confidently, joyfully encounters his students powerfully witnesses to the truth and hope of the Gospel message.
It can be so hard to continually and effectively live according to this truth. Each day demands preparing lessons, correcting work, controlling students in the classroom, meeting standards, reporting to administrators and parents, not to mention the many difficulties I face in attending to the needs of my life outside of school. How much can I really expect of myself? How much lasting good can I possibly do for my students?
Do I pray to become a better teacher? Do I take the difficulties I face in teaching to the Lord in prayer? Do I practice humility by seeking help from my superiors and fellow teachers? Do I embrace my role in helping parents and pastors to form my students, or am I afraid of the responsibilities that might entail?
My Teacher, You who received with thanks the few loaves and fishes of the Apostles, accept the poor offering of my teaching; use me to feed the needy spirits of my students. The love for students You inspired in generations of Catholic teachers was always at the heart of their success. Strengthen my heart lest I be overwhelmed by the challenges of the important work You have given me. Train me in the art of Catholic education through my reading, conversations with fellow teachers, and prayer. May Your Holy Spirit help me to see the many opportunities to show Your love that each day brings.
At the heart of the Institute’s work is the conviction that teaching is a sacred participation in the work of the Father of us all, of Christ, the One Teacher, and of the Holy Spirit of Wisdom.
Please also offer one Mass and one Rosary some time this month for the intentions of the members of the Confraternity.