In To Teach as Jesus Did, from 1972, the US Bishops stated the following:
The educational mission of the Church is an integrated ministry embracing three interlocking dimensions: the message revealed by God (didache) which the Church proclaims; fellowship in the life of the Holy Spirit (koinonia); service to the Christian community and the entire human community (diakonia) (14).
This was a formative document for Catholic educators when I was a child growing up in Catholic schools. Of course, it was the 70’s and 80’s, and it seemed to me growing up that all the world embraced these dimensions in everyday living. It was only when I grew older and understood that the world I experienced in my school community was quite different from the society around me. I would not claim that I was sheltered, but instead I had the opportunity to see what the living out of these three ideals could create in terms of a community. In many ways, my school experience reflected more of the Kingdom of God, while the society around me was reflecting ever more the self-centeredness and greed of the time.
Of course, no school community is perfect, Catholic or non-Catholic, and I remember the times when koinonia was fractured due to human frailty and the immaturity of youth. However, it was the coming back together that served as the real example of fellowship. As a child, I had the sense that I was more than a student; I was a child of God. And even more importantly at the time for me was the belief that I was loved. It didn’t hurt that many of the teachers and staff at my elementary school were active parishioners in the parish. Their love and care for me extended outside of the classroom. In addition to seeing my adult role models in church, the sense of fellowship extended into life outside our parish community. I was taught to play guitar by two of my elementary school teachers, I was coached in soccer for several years by the husband of one of my teachers, and I even developed a love of baseball cards from one of my teachers and her husband. I did not really know the word Greek word, koinonia, at the time, but I realize looking back that I was experiencing it in all aspects of my life.
The primary point of all this is that those of leadership in my Catholic school did teach as Jesus did. They taught me about my self in relation to God and the community, and they taught me about the importance of community by simply being Jesus for me. They did teach me academic disciplines through speaking and writing, but their primary teaching was conveyed by their actions. I can’t attest to this being the case in every Catholic school that ever existed. But it was my Catholic school. They took the educational mission of the Church seriously, as do many Catholic educators today and many who will in the future. For this, I will be forever grateful and I know that there are so many more out there who echo my sentiment.
TO ALL THOSE WHO TAUGHT ME IN MY 12 YEARS OF CATHOLIC SCHOOL: THANK YOU!