“To fulfil her divine mandate to proclaim salvation and restore all things in Christ, the Church has a role in the progress and development of education” (Outlines of the 16 Documents of Vatican II).
During the discussions and decisions which were formulated by the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965), these decrees were established: “The Church is bound to give her children an education by which their whole life can be imbued with the spirit of Christ, and promote for all peoples:- perfection of the human person, the good of earthly society, and the building of a world that is humane.”
The primary way to achieve these objectives is through catechetical instruction. This should begin with the parents or guardians, the domestic church, and should continue with the schools. The Church considers the schools especially important since these are designed to “develop the intellect, and the ability to judge rightly, hand on the cultural legacy, foster a sense of values, and prepare for professional life.” Schools also establish an environment where pupils of different talents and backgrounds may become friends; the work must be shared by families, teachers, associations that support cultural, civic and religious life, civil society and the entire community.
Catholic schools, like all others, provide an academic and cultural foundation. However, its essential function is to establish a special environment whereby the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity flourishes, and young people “grow as the new creatures they were made by Baptism”.
Through the message of salvation, the school should highlight the good in life on earth as it exists in contemporary time, while preparing students for service in the spread of the Kingdom of God.
In contemporary Trinidad and Tobago, apart from the physical and academic requirements of the State, Catholic schools are closely guided by the Synod priorities of 2008.
The first priority – The New Evangelisation – is supported by the teaching of the Gospel values and the traditions of the Church. The Catechetical Office provides Religious Workbooks for students from First Year to Upper Six. Close monitoring of the use of this method of instruction is maintained by the Catechetical Office through school visits, since this is an important instrument and opportunity for evangelisation. Whilst many Catholic schools in the rural areas have a very low Catholic population, the workbooks promote a positive way of living which in turn will encourage healthy relationships and right judgment and values.
The Second Priority – Revitalising Catholic Culture and Identity – is ably supported by both Primary and Secondary schools. In general, the Catholic school is easily identified by statues/posters of Jesus or Mary, as well as saints, at its entrance or in the courtyard, with many schools highlighting items of Catholic significance along its corridors, in conjunction with the relevant period of the Liturgical Cycle.
In most classrooms, there are posters devoted to values and virtues, basic Catholic beliefs, as well as seasonal Catholic devotions. Most classes have a religious corner or shrine.
Prayer is a very important aspect of our Catholic identity. Morning, midday and evening prayer take precedence. Basic Catholic prayers are recited and the opportunity is taken at these times to instruct generally in matters of faith, positive behaviours and attitudes. St Michael’s Prayer has become especially important at this point in our history.
Some schools have Prayer Rooms and chapels, where devotion to the Eucharist is promoted. Certain classes also attend Mass weekly, once proximity to the church permits. Sacramental preparation is also undertaken in many schools, with First Communion and Confirmation programmes being conducted.
The Third Priority – Regenerating the Moral and Spiritual Values of our Society – is supported by the values and virtues promoted in the Religious Workbooks and in particular “Journey to Discovery”, geared towards Standard 5 pupils who are on the verge of entering secondary school and at a very critical phase in their moral and spiritual development. The teachings continue to be supported by general instruction to all students regarding positive behaviours and attitudes, lectures by role models and other motivational speakers.
The Catechetical Office continues to support these priorities through the provision of Faith Formation and Faith Teaching programmes for teachers, as well as for parents and guardians through the respective groups.
The Church must be present in our Catholic schools by the teachings and traditions of our Faith, by the witness and lives of our teachers and by the apostolic action of fellow students.
Catholic schools, become what you are.
– Diane Lucky