Technique. Technology. Funding. Pedagogy. Business models. Test scores. Assessments.
While each of these considerations has great merit, these and similar factors are not inherently unique to Catholic schools. But what makes the Catholic school different? What is at the core of Catholic education?
If it is not the centrality of the Gospel, as imparted by educators on fire for the Lord Jesus Christ, then the community is left wanting. The end of the 2016-2017 academic year is approaching, and the summer is almost here. Do you know a Catholic school educator? You know that you want to get something meaningful for the Catholic school teachers (and/or professors) in your life! Here are some gift ideas in the form of the gift that keeps on giving: a book.
1. The “5 Minutes with…” series
(Fr. Lou DelFra, C.S.C., and Ann Primus Berends of the Alliance for Catholic Education, University of Notre Dame, Ave Maria Press, 2011, 2014, and 2017, respectively)
Each of these three books is designed for busy teachers. In other words, each of these three books is designed for all teachers in Catholic schools. Written in association with the University of Notre Dame’s world-renowned Alliance for Catholic Education. In five-minute increments, teachers can take a spiritual breather in order to reflect on the grand scheme of teaching in a Catholic school. Since the reflections are not beholden to a specific day of the week, teachers can get all three books and read them over the course of one academic year (or even the summer leading up to the academic year).
2. 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator
(Jared Dees, Ave Maria Press, 2013)
In this book, Dees provides religious educators with thirty-one days worth of suggestions for how to become more effective at sharing the Gospel with their students. Although it is written primarily for theology/religious education teachers, Catholic school teachers of any discipline can read this in order to look for ideas on how to bring Christ into theirr classroom. As Dees reminds us, “We have been called and sent to the classroom to make disciples. As Christ’s disciples, we are called to make disciples of others. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we go and we teach. Each one of us has been given the gifts to change the lives of the young people we serve” (page xv).
3. Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education
(Stratford Caldecott, Angelico Press, 2012)
This book by the late Stratford Caldecott, who served as editor of Magnificat, and wrote various publications, wrote this book in order to reorient the conversation on what forms the basis of education in the Catholic tradition. When all is said and done, what is the purpose of Catholic educational institutions, as we remind ourselves that the first universities (e.g., Bologna, Oxford, Paris, Salamanca, and others) were founded by the Catholic Church in the ongoing quest for truth and beauty. Beauty in the Word strongly emphasizes the merits of classical education models, and even if an institution is not structured on a classical model per se, the evidence of success presented by the features posited therein are worth further investigation. According to the book’s description on Angelico Press’s webpage:
“What is a good education? What is it for? To answer these questions, Stratford Caldecott shines a fresh light on the three arts of language, in a marvelous recasting of the Trivium whereby Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric are explored as Remembering, Thinking, and Communicating.”
4. Called to Teach: Daily Inspiration for Catholic Educators
(Justin McClain, Ave Maria Press, 2016)
(*Note: This was written by the author. He suggests that you get his book… although his views may be biased. In fact, they definitely are.)
I wrote this book of short (thirty-second) daily reflections for teachers – of all subject matters – in Catholic schools who need a “reboot”… perhaps even a reboot every day of the year. It is designed to accompany the teacher throughout the academic year, and even the summer (hint, hint), so that teachers in Catholic schools can recall the broader scope of their mission: to bring their students to love the Lord Jesus Christ, no matter their academic expertise.
A question that I kept in mind when writing each reflection, based on my own experience as a teacher in my tenth year at the time, was: How can teachers, especially those who do not teach theology/religious education, contribute to a school’s Catholic identity from within the classroom? This book is for Catholic school teachers at any stage in their career (really, a vocation) who are looking to recapture the joy of teaching in a Catholic school. There is even an entry for February 29 every four years, and the reflection begins with this reminder: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice in in it and be glad” (Psalm 118:24).
5. Education for Choosing Life: Proposals for Difficult Times
(Pope Francis, Ignatius Press, 2014)
This is the English-language translation of a book that Pope Francis wrote while he was still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires. This was originally written for Argentine Catholic educators. However, the implications are universal, given that many of the challenges that Pope Francis addresses are present in various areas of the world.
There will always be challenges when it comes to presenting the Gospel, because humanity is in great need, especially in the midst of difficult circumstances around the globe. This book will inspire Catholic educators at all levels. Per the description on Ignatius Press’s webpage: “Filled with the faith, hope, and charity, as well as the practical wisdom, that have marked the pontificate of Pope Francis, these reflections are being made available in English to give encouragement and inspiration to educators in the United States.”
6. To Heal, Proclaim, and Teach: The Essential Guide to Ministry in Today’s Catholic Church
(Jared Dees, Ave Maria Press, 2016)
Frankly, this book is for anyone in any ministerial capacity within the Church, not only teachers in Catholic schools. However, teachers in Catholic schools need to be reminded of how to appropriately approach evangelization, since being a Catholic school educator is above all a ministry. This may seem counter-intuitive, but we must remember the most fitting order in which to undertake evangelization: first heal, then proclaim, and then teach, just as Jesus dealt with those with whom he interacted during his earthly ministry.
According to Dees,
“It is our responsibility to cultivate our hearts and minds for ministry so that Christ can sow the seeds of faith in all we do. How do we do this? What lies at the root of every effective ministry? What drives the saints and heroes of our great tradition to make disciples? Below the good soil, at the root of all effective ministries, are these three keys to evangelization: healing, proclaiming, and teaching. Commitment to these first priorities of ministry is essential to cultivating good soil and bringing forth a great harvest.”.
7. The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools
At only 96 pages, The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools can be read in one sitting. Archbishop J. Michael Miller, C.S.B., wrote this while serving as Secretary for the Congregation for Catholic Education. It provides an infusion of clarification from within the magisterial setting of the Vatican of the role of Catholic schools in building disciples for Christ. In the midst of the multiple concerns that cloud both educators’ and students’ minds, the educator has to take seriously his or her role in encouraging students and drawing them to be whom Christ has called them to be: faithful disciples.
Archbishop Miller identifies the “five essential marks of Catholic schools”: 1) “inspired by a supernatural vision”; 2) founded on a Christian anthropology”; 3) “animated by communion and community”; 4) “imbued with a Catholic worldview through its curriculum”; 5) “sustained by Gospel witness” (pages 17-59). This book will give you a jolt to focus your attention on the Church’s broader vision for Catholic education in an age so imbued with the perils of widespread secularism.
8. How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard: 40 Tips for Faithful College Students
(Aurora Griffin, Ignatius Press, 2016)
Aurora Griffin is a relatively recent alumna (Class of 2014) of Harvard University. While at Harvard, she studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University (among numerous other academic achievements). Perhaps most noteworthy of all is that Griffin remains a devout Catholic. Perhaps this should not be noteworthy, but in this post-modern era, it is. This book is an important consideration for teachers in Catholic schools because teachers should recall what rests at the core of their vocation: to lead students to remain faithful both during and beyond their educational careers.
According to the description of the book on Ignatius Press’s webpage:
“[Griffin] reminds us that keeping the faith is a conscious decision, reinforced by commitment to daily practices. Aurora’s story illustrates that when you decide your faith matters to you, no one can take it away, even in the most secular environments and under strong peer pressure. Throughout the book, she shows how being Catholic in college did not prevent her from having a full ‘college experience,’ but actually enabled her to make the most of her time at Harvard. Aurora encourages students who are about to begin this formative journey, or those now in college, that the most valuable parts of college life – lasting friendships, intellectual growth, and cherished memories – are experienced in a more meaningful way when lived in and through the Catholic faith.”
9. Room 24: Adventures of a New Evangelist
(Katie Prejean McGrady, Ave Maria Press, 2016)
Katie Prejean McGrady is a sought-after Catholic speaker and master catechist. However, her “home base” is as an experienced high school religion teacher. Every teacher in a Catholic school needs to remember that we are not alone in the classroom. That may sound trite, but we have a vast network of support, including our colleagues. Our students themselves end up teaching us a great deal, both about ourselves and about how to be an effective purveyor of the Gospel. McGrady achieves that in this book, which is a quick read yet one packed with wisdom that any Catholic school educator, perhaps especially those new to the field, will appreciate. McGrady imparts the joy that we should all celebrate within our teaching fields:
“The most essential elements of evangelization include the joyful extension of invitations that promote and foster prayerful encounters with Christ, which then lead to the building of relationships that include open, honest, humble dialogue about the Truth.”
10. Tools and Fuels: How Catholic Teachers Can Become Saints, Beat Burnout, and Save the World
(Jonathan Doyle, 2017)
Jonathan Doyle is an internationally sought-after speaker – and a very inspirational one at that – who recently served as the keynote speaker at the National Catholic Educational Association‘s 2017 annual conference in Saint Louis, Missouri (April 17-20, 2017). You can read more about Doyle’s vision for Catholic education via this interview that he recently conducted for Catholic Exchange. Tools and Fuels has already been a popular book since its release, and it has begun to inspire teachers worldwide to remain enthused by the prospect of spreading the Gospel on a daily basic.
These are some of the books that will hopefully enthuse and encourage teachers in Catholic schools both during the coming summer and beyond. May God bless all educators, and their students, as another academic year draws to a close. We would do well to reflect on the words of Daniel 12:3: “But those with insight shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”