An overview of the Instruction

In addition to an introduction and a conclusion the Instruction on The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue (ICS) is divided in three chapters:

Chapter I: Catholic schools in the mission of the Church

Chapter II: The actors responsible for promoting and verifying Catholic identity

Chapter III: Some critical aspects

Any reference without initials before it are from ICS. Any quotations in italics are from one of the other Vatican documents listed below.

The first part of the Instruction focuses on the fact that Catholic schools are ecclesial entities. While affirming and promoting the fundamental human right to education of all persons right (#11) it also underlines that a Catholic education aims to promote to “all peoples the complete perfection of the human person, the good of earthly society and the building of a world that is more human”(GE #3.).

This section makes a clear case for the value of schools in general but is focused on the importance of the value added through the essential elements of a Catholic school’s “ecclesial nature” (#22). It underscores the raison d’être of Catholic schools to proclaim the Gospel by teaching all nations (#5) through “its reference to a Christian concept of life centred on Jesus Christ” (TCS #22).

This is what gives a school its Catholic identity and can be expressed in its:

  • care for the growth of those who are already walking towards the fullness of Christ’s life.
  • special atmosphere animated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity
  • responsibility by all for all
  • initial and permanent formation of teachers
  • principle of mutual cooperation
  • operation as not so much as an institution but as a community
  • lack of separation between time for learning and time for formation, between acquiring notions and growing in wisdom.

It is a school for all, especially the weakest (#22).

The Catholic school need educators, both lay and consecrated, who are “competent, convinced and coherent educators, teachers of learning and of life’ and as such “may be a reflection, albeit imperfect but still vivid, of the one Teacher” (CSTM #14). Professionalism and vocation, therefore, must go hand in hand to teach young people justice, solidarity and, above all, “promote dialogue so as to foster a peaceful society” (EIDCS Introduction).

The identity of Catholic education is determined by its reference to its role as within the Christian conception of reality and rooted in this practice of the “grammar of dialogue” (EIDCS #57), arising from the “Trinitarian dynamics of dialogue, in the dialogue between God and human beings and in the dialogue among human beings themselves” (#30). It is not a tool but a “profound way of relating to others” (EIDCS #57).

The second part of the Instruction is explicit about the role of the various actors that operate in the school world and as such are responsible for the promotion and verification of the Catholic identity, starting from the premise that “we all have the obligation to recognise, respect and witness to the Catholic identity of the school, officially set out in the educational project” (#39).

The students, as the main protagonists, must be guided so that, following the educational programme, they look beyond human reality, assuming the synthesis between faith and culture. Parents, who have freely chosen Catholic education for their children, must contribute their personal faith to the educational project, watching over the Catholic education of their children (#41).

Teachers have a special responsibility since, by their didactic-pedagogical skills, as well as by the witness of their lives, they are the ones who ensure that the Catholic school fulfils its educational project. The school leaders, as educational leaders, are the ones who must foster pastoral care and dialogue with the ecclesial community and its pastors. It underscored that no initiative can claim the title ‘Catholic’ without the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority (#56).

Finally, the document points out some critical points that can arise in the integration of all the different aspects of school education, such as the interpretation of the Catholic qualification, the selection of personnel, conflicts in the disciplinary field… and other types of situations that require a close dialogue with ecclesial institutions and a profound discernment that brings together the human, spiritual, juridical, subjective, and pragmatic dimensions. Limited and divergent views – Reductive; Formal; Charismatic; Narrow – of what it means to be Catholic must not lead us to “confine ourselves on an island” (#72) or “lose our missionary impetus” (#72).

Subsidiarity as a principle is affirmed through the integration of all the different aspects of school education, so that each person can “be a protagonist in the educational project” (#73) enabling solutions to “be developed at the most immediate level possible, involving those who are directly a part of the local reality and know it in all its elements” (#92).

The Instruction makes explicit that the continuing role of Catholic education to “guaranteeing just relations between people” (FT #273),  through its focus on “the transcendent dignity of the human person who, as the visible image of the invisible God” (FT #273), is the responsibility of all engaged in its educational project “to join their work of education with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel” (#95).

We invite all who are part of any MACS school community to take a closer look at the Instruction and to reflect on how we live out our Catholic identity from the point of view of the responsibility that we need to carry out.

Vatican documents quoted

CSTM – The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium28 December 1997

EIDCS – Educating to Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools. Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love, 19 December 2013

FT – Fratelli tutti, 3 October 2020

GE – Gravissimum educationis, 28 October 1965

ICS – The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue, 25 January 2022

TCS – The Catholic School19 March 1977