Thursday, 21 January 2016

Is the encounter with Jesus at the centre of Catholic education in NZ ?

During the school holidays, at Mercy College in windy Wellington, not far from the famous 'Beehive', a dedicated group of leaders from Catholic schools across New Zealand completed a four day intensive study unit entitled 'Identity and Mission'. Lecturer Lyn Smith's expertise, energy and passion for this topic, ensured we engaged fully with the aim of the unit: to critically examine Catholic identity and mission within the Catholic school setting.

This study unit reinforced the purpose for the very existence of our Catholic schools. Each of us were reminded about our responsibility to uphold the mission as stated in the New Zealand Bishop's Document 2014: "to communicate Christ and help to form Christ in the lives of others"(John Paul II, 1979). Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed this goal in 2008: "First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth."

Previous to this unit, we spent four days focused on 'Leading Authentic Learning' with Professor Christopher Branson. We explored research around the role of shared moral purpose and agency and the concept of authentic learning in relation to leadership. In essence, when we apply an authentic learning framework to our Catholic schools, leading authentic learning can only happen if we are Christ centred institutions. Frances-Rees and I based our presentation at the NZ Catholic Convention in 2015 around the exploration of this theme and how we apply it in our practice.

The immediate challenge for us in 2016 and beyond is to be courageous and active leaders. We need to be fully alert to external influences such as performativity in relation to assessments. We need to ensure our students are immersed in engaging learning experiences that enable them to connect with more than their minds. We need to touch their hearts. We need to unleash a passion and love for life and learning based around the core beliefs of our Catholic faith. A faith based on head (intellect, reason) heart (love, passion) and hands (outreach, service).

Conversations with both primary and secondary school colleagues, highlight the lack of leaders and teachers who radiate passion and love for their Catholic faith. Often, our secondary schools are reliant on their dedicated Director of Religious Education to spread the Catholicity across the entire school. Jeremy Cumming (RE Advisor in Canterbury 2016) shares his thoughts in What is the purpose of religious education ?  Similarly, our primary schools face more and more challenges as they induct new teachers who often identify with being Catholic but who need to be guided "to being a committed disciple of Christ" (Duthie-Jung, Faith Amid Secularity 2011).

As leaders, we must focus on the reason for the existence of our Catholic schools. The person of Jesus is the heart and foundation of our schools and the framework for the school's way of being is the Gospel values. All principals, leaders and teachers in Catholic schools would benefit from studying a paper such as 'Identity and Mission of Catholic Education' to fully understand the importance of their role in relation to life at school, the local faith community and the wider vision of the Universal Catholic Church.

We need to ask ourselves as leaders and teachers: Am I bringing about the reign of God ? Am I bringing the gospel to others ? Am I enabling life to the full for staff, students and parents in my school ?


  1. Oh my goodness Jenny, I love this new blog. You are absolutely pertinent to the challenges and joys faced by Catholic leaders. Keep up the good work.

  2. Thanks Lorraine. I always value your feedback. We all have to work together to make a difference for Catholic education in NZ and globally.