Who We Are Our Schools Learning & Wellbeing Professional Learning Employment Policies & Publications News Centre
  • A Moving Triangle of Family, Parish and Schools

    I recently heard a talk given by Bishop Greg O’Kelly Chair of the Australian Bishops’ Commission for Education. In that talk he captured for me some of the anxiety that exists in some minds about the Catholic school in this day and age.

    In fact, he said what we all know, namely, that in an ideal world faith is taught in the home, reinforced in the school and celebrated in the parish. But, as Bishop O’Kelly acknowledged we are far from that ideal today. The fate of young people is built in a triangle, with parish, family and school forming the three corners. Those corners are constantly moving. Very simple, very clear – yet very profound.

    What Bishop O’Kelly was saying is that the Catholic school cannot do it alone, nor can it be expected to.

    I am aware that there are those in our parishes who are disappointed, even angry that things are not as once they were. They are good Catholic people, certainly, but they have real concern that, Catholic schools are not really Catholic anymore! In last month’s Catholic Life, I argued that the role of schools generally has changed over the decades. So, too, it has changed in the matter of religious and faith education. It is sad that this change is not always recognised.

    Let us consider the first corner of the triangle, the family. The fact remains that many, perhaps most, homes are not places where Catholic faith and culture are first implanted into the minds and hearts of children. Indeed, Catholic faith and culture is not at all at the forefront of the minds and hearts of many mums and dads, good, wonderful people though they may be.

    The majority of children, then, come to our schools without the seed of faith planted and germinated. Already, then, the role of the school must be changed quite dramatically from what it had once been.

    At the second corner of the triangle, the parish, it is clear that children are not often enough there with their families to celebrate their faith and to live their Catholic culture. That, once again, changes the role of the third corner, the Catholic school. It would be wonderful if it was as ideal a picture as Bishop O’Kelly painted with all three working in concert to nurture the faith of our young. But that is not the case.

    So, the role of the school changes.  It becomes now one of first invitation, of evangelisation. The school offers to young people – and often to their families – the invitation to “come and see.” (Jn 1:46) And, some will accept that invitation, others will not. “Many are invited but few are chosen.”(Mt 22:14)

    That, however, does not mean that the evangelising work of the school is wasted. The rich young man of Mark’s Gospel (Mk 10:17ff) could not accept Jesus’ invitation to “sell all you have and come and follow me.”  Indeed, the rich young man walked away, sad, we are told. But Jesus still loved him and there is no suggestion in the scripture that the young man became a bad young man. I suggest that he continued to keep the commandments and be loved in the eye of God as he had always been.

    The great majority of our young people and their parents in our schools are like that rich young man. They are good people, loved by God, but unable to “sell all they have and follow Jesus.” We do certainly rejoice when they do.

    We all need to remember, though, that while it is obvious that the roles of two of the corners of the triangle of faith education, family and parish, have changed, it would be nonsense to expect that the other, the school, would not have to change too.