January 27, 2006

2006 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

National Directory for Catechesis helps schools evangelize

By Sean Gallagher

Catholic schools should be centers of evangelization and places where young boys and girls are formed to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

This is the vision set out for Catholic schools by the new National Directory for Catechesis (NDC), published last year by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

According to Harry Dudley, associate executive director of faith formation for the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education (OCE), the NDC affirms many of the things that Catholic schools in central and southern Indiana are already doing, but asks them to be more deliberate about passing on the faith.

“What I think the directory is going to call us to do is to be more intentional about it,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of good things in isolation and unconsciously.

“I think the directory is calling us to say, ‘Let’s not do them unconsciously. Let’s do them intentionally and well or we could be doing them unintentionally and poorly,’ ” Dudley said.

Kent Clady, principal of Our Lady of the Greenwood School in Greenwood, keeps his school’s mission of evangelization very much at the forefront of its day-to-day life.

He said that proclaiming the Gospel is at the heart of the school’s ministry because of its Catholic identity.

“It makes all of the children and all of the staff evangelization crusaders,” Clady said. “If we’re not able to live our mission, then we’re headed in the wrong direction. I feel that that’s one of the things that drives everything we do.”

This focus on evangelization that the NDC calls schools to take on brings forward the challenge of how Catholic schools relate to their students who are not Catholic.

John Valenti, OCE’s associate director of religious education, sacramental, adult and family catechesis and the archdiocesan evangelization coordinator, said that the NDC calls Catholic schools to be true to their Catholic identity and mission as well as respectful of students who practice another faith or none at all.

“Our schools are to present our Catholic faith and our belief in Jesus Christ in such a way that it should arouse interest and it should enlighten people,” Valenti said. “And at the very least, people should walk away with the sense that Catholic schools are being faithful to the mission of Jesus Christ. Then if they would want to join the Church, we would be really glad to invite them to it.”

Oldenburg Franciscan Sister Joanita Koors, principal of St. Mary School in North Vernon, sees the Catholic identity of her school embodied in everything it teaches.

“If [the students] grow in their faith, it’s because we’re not here just to teach religion,” she said. “It permeates every subject area. You can’t separate it.”

But more than simply allowing the school’s Catholic identity to be embodied in all its academic subjects, Sister Joanita emphasized that the Catholic nature of St. Mary School seeps down into the way that students and staff relate to one another.

“It’s the courtesy,” she said. “It’s the respect [shown] toward one another. It’s the expectations throughout the whole day and the way they treat one another. Ultimately, we learn this through Jesus.”

The NDC also emphasizes that a parish’s school should be integrated into the ministry of the entire parish.

Valenti said that parishes and schools ultimately have the same mission of bringing people to Christ through the Catholic Church.

“I think if the whole parish is on board with that concept,” he said, “it means that they’re able to support the school better because the school is a very important and integral part of that total parish ministry plan.”

Clady gained an appreciation of this through his own personal experience. Before becoming the principal of Our Lady of the Greenwood School, he served as a volunteer catechist for the parish’s religious education program.

Since starting his work at the school, he has fostered a close relationship between the school and the parish.

This bond was embodied recently by the decision to name a library of religious education resources at the school after Beth Perkins, a former director of religious education, who died in 2004.

Sister Joanita encourages St. Mary School students to be involved in the parish’s service ministries, including its St. Vincent de Paul Society chapter.

“Our students help out with that whenever they can,” she said. “We’re all in it together. [We’re] not separate.”

Clady is looking forward to studying the NDC with both members of the staff and those in the parish involved in religious education programs.

“That is one of the [top] priorities for us,” he said.

Dudley said that over the next year and a half, other school leaders in the archdiocese will have the opportunity to learn more about the NDC through archdiocesan-sponsored convocations and deanery-based workshops.

He also said the University of Dayton is offering online courses for school leaders to learn more about the National Directory for Catechesis. †


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