As part of the All Things New strategic pastoral planning initiative, Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Louis are being invited to offer specific feedback about Catholic education in a new survey released this month.
Developed by a task force that includes administrators, faculty, staff, parents and pastors in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the survey is intended to provide a snapshot of attitudes and beliefs about Catholic education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, including Catholic schools and parish-based religious education programs.
The anonymous survey is available at allthingsnew.archstl.org/education-survey through Monday, May 2. It should take anywhere from five to 25 minutes to complete, depending on the relationship of the survey respondent to Catholic education in the archdiocese.
Because of the focus on Catholic education across the entire Archdiocese of St. Louis, respondents will not be providing feedback about a specific school or parish. Responses will be categorized by county. The survey is meant to be a first step in allowing the local task force to gather initial information, with opportunities for more focused input and feedback in the future. Survey respondents also are not required to have children currently attending a Catholic school or parish-based religious education program.
“We know that Catholic education and formation is an integral part of the fabric of the Church,” said Father Christopher Martin, archdiocesan vicar for strategic planning. “There are many challenges right now for parishes in cooperating with parents as the primary educators and formators of their children, who are being formed as young Catholics who are able to integrate a Catholic worldview in their lives.”
Father Martin noted that the education survey serves as a launching point for future conversations on the role of Catholic education and formation in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and that it’s not meant to produce immediate solutions.
“All Things New is not going to solve all of the Church’s problems, nor is it going to solve the problems in the St. Louis area altogether,” he said. “We are re-aligning ourselves in the right direction, and it will take time to see the full fruits of what we’re just beginning.”
A closer look at Catholic identity
A new instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education released in March seeks to foster a “renewal” of the essential characteristics of Catholic schools. Feedback from the congregation’s members and consultants, as well as bishops from all over the world, have demonstrated “the need for a clearer awareness and consistency of the Catholic identity of the Church’s educational institutions all over the world.”
While Catholic schools have an essential role in the life of the Church, fostering and instilling faith and formation, they are also part of the Church’s missionary witness and represent the Church within a wider society, according to the text.
Father Martin noted that the local survey on Catholic education will lead into the question of how the Catholic identity of schools can be strengthened here. One of the challenges currently facing Catholic education is reinforcing how schools and religious education programs are meant to be a support to parents as first teachers of the faith to their children.
“Catholic education was never set up to be the primary teacher of the faith to children. It was always supposed to supplement what they are receiving at home,” Father Martin said. “The question we need to be asking at the end of the day is: How does this ministry of the Church fulfill the original Gospel mandate to go and make disciples?”
Father James Theby, who served on the Catholic education task force that created the survey, said that part of the solution lies in better equipping those who are entrusted with educating young people in the faith.
“People don’t always feel equipped to share their faith,” said Father Theby, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Washington. “Our teachers, they’re the ones who have face time with these kids. Our teachers are good and faithful Catholics, and we need to better equip them to live their faith and share it with kids in a powerful way.”
Catholic education fundamentally exists for the salvation of souls, which is why All Things New needs to be more than just looking at the restructuring of Catholic school buildings, Father Theby said.
“We have to have in mind the goal of evangelization, so these students can come to know and love the Lord and end up with Him in heaven,” he said. “We have to structure everything around that goal.”