Saturday, 17 December 2011

The ten marks of a Catholic school

What makes a school Catholic?

It's name?

Not necessarily, in fact, I would not regard most Catholic schools in the UK as being Catholic in the sense that they reflect the teachings of Holy Mother Church.

Most do not.
Most employ a large number of non Catholic teachers who cannot reasonably be expected to embrace the Catholic "ethos", if that is the correct word to describe an institution that looks, sounds and behaves as a Catholic school should.
Ambience is not quite right either; and "identity" is a shade obscure, perhaps "spirit" is the word to be used.

Anyone wearing this could not have
attended a real Catholic school!

Does school X reflect the Catholic spirit?

Here are ten points that would entitle a school to claim that it has the "Catholic spirit"

  1. Morning class prayers or school assembly
  2. Crucifix on the wall of every classroom
  3. Weekly school Mass
  4. Catechism as the keystone of religious education studies
  5. No ‘sex education’ programmes (in the secular sense) taught
  6. School choir versed in plainchant
  7. Latin in the curriculum
  8. School ‘houses’ named after saints rather than animals or (worse) rock bands
  9. An ordained priest as School Chaplain
  10. A strict but fair regime of discipline

Photo credit: Traditional Catholic and originally from Fr Simon Henry


  1. 1. Yes
    2. Yes (plus the school hall and every office)
    3. Yes if you meam mass in school every week (if you can find a priest who will do this). Having every member of the school community attend mass every week would be superrogatory.
    4. You need to expand on this. How would you tell?
    5. Yes
    6. I can see where this is coming from but it is difficult for schools to find people trained in plainchant.
    7. Why? Especially since academic Latin is different from ecclesiastical Latin. Certainly students should know the Latin parts of the Mass.
    8. Yes (although local beautified martyrs or prominent English clergy - Hinsley, Wiseman etc. should also be allowed)
    9. A little unfair as the Bishop appoints School Chaplains
    10. All schools would aspire to this.

    There are also parts of Catholic ethos you have completely missed. What about the implications of the "preferential option for the poor" on provision for SEN pupils? What about how the school works with parents given that it exists to "assist parents in their responsibility to bring up their children in the Faith"?

    You are also unfair to teachers of other faiths and none (although this can be an issue in primary schools but your list - especially the Latin bit - seem aimed at secondary schools) as they can support the Catholic life of the school provided they:
    - have a basic knowledge of the Catholic faith
    - never say anything to undermine the church's teaching
    - support Catholic values.
    - promote the ethos in those areas where their conciences allow (see Matthew 35:40 for a start)
    They also need to be led by people with clear vision - you can't support an ethos if you don't understand it.

    In fact (and I suspect you will agree with this) where Catholic schools fail in their mission that can be ascribed to the Catholic staff (especially senior leaders and RE) teachers rather than the non-Catholic ones.

  2. Richard,
    Excellent post-I could not agree with your points more; except maybe that the teaching staff should be committed Catholics and the Chair of the Board of Governors Should be the Parish Priest and be no relation to any member of the teaching staff also! Hope you enjoyed your few days way.



  3. The Vaughan the London Oratory the Oratory school reading St Anselms Birkenhead

  4. PTP - yes, the list was not meant to be exhaustive and thanks for your comment.
    Additions to the list such as SEN and the preferential option are not, per se, marks of the faith although they are an integral part of the school "offer", or should be.
    No 4 is easily fulfilled,you just stipulate the lesson format and then keep a regular check on how the syllabus is delivered.
    Plainchant may be competently learnt by distance learning.
    Latin is a doorway to so many languages and a basis for understanding. A familiarity with it will also encourage participation in the TLM.

    If you think that all Catholic schools subscribe to No 10, then you are also expecting Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on Christmas Eve!

    Michael, thank you, it was actually more business than pleasure, good to be back though.

  5. John Haldane (in 'The Church cannot do without intellectuals' in his The Church and the World (p124)) suggests that a key element in the decline of Catholic intellectual life is the way that so many Catholics became educated as teachers, and thus were indoctrinated by the most extreme lunacies of secular social science in teaching training colleges(my words but very much his sentiment!). Quite apart from being an element in the general decline of Catholic life, this does suggest a particular reason why many Catholic schools struggle to maintain a Catholic ethos: to have been trained as a teacher is ipso facto to have been exposed to an extreme form of anti-Catholic ideology.

  6. All good signs, but
    There are catholic schools with fewer of these ten which are better than some with more of them , for which the appropriate tshirt slogan is
    "my Faith survived "catholc" school."

  7. Lazarus - could not agree more, sadly it still goes on today.

    Mike - not sure I either follow or agree with you on that one.

  8. Here are ten points that would entitle a school to claim that it has the "Catholic spirit"

    Oh Yes? Come to our northern diocese....

    1. Morning class prayers or school assembly
    You mean "Worship experience" I think, to tick the RE Inspectors' boxes.

    2. Crucifix on the wall of every classroom
    No. In the stockroom in case it frightens the kids, or in the teachers' loo along with the Sacred Heart statue.

    3. Weekly school Mass
    Disapproved of during school time. Once or twice a term if you're lucky and ignore the Christian Education Department.

    4. Catechism as the keystone of religious education studies
    What's the Catechism? Oh, it's that dirty book which the diocese never mentions.

    5. No ‘sex education’ programmes (in the secular sense) taught
    Don't rock the boat. Just go along with the LEA.

    6. School choir versed in plainchant
    Dream on, buddy! School choir actually versed in "This little light of mine" "I danced in the morning" and other 1960 fave raves.

    7. Latin in the curriculum
    No time for Latin. We've all this interfaith Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism to get through.

    8. School ‘houses’ named after saints rather than animals or (worse) rock bands
    Might even be named after martyrs but no one has explained to the kids who they are.

    9. An ordained priest as School Chaplain
    A highly paid theologically unqualified laywoman as chaplain / counsellor / social worker. Priest - they're running two or three parishes and we don't want them coming in upsetting the timetable. And going on about all that old-fashioned Church teaching stuff. The Church is sooooo out of date.

    10. A strict but fair regime of discipline
    No racist or homophobic bullying. Right on!

  9. Dominic - I think it's the same all over the country. Time for change.

  10. The change is not going to come from the hierarchy though. It's time for faithful Catholic parents to take matters into their own hands, abandon the rubbish which the diocese is foisting upon them, and educate their own children.
    The problem is deeper than just the lack of catechesis within Catholic schools. There is a problem with the whole project of compulsory schooling. Traditionally, Catholic education is based within the family and the community. To farm it out to government-certified specialists is fundamentally anti-Catholic.
    As a soon to be ex-schoolteacher, and more importantly, as a Catholic father of three (soon to be four, God willing), I would urge Catholic parents to reconsider all the premises on which modern schooling is founded. I've started a new blog dedicated to this:

  11. Dear Richard :
    A problem with all schools, which has caught us out more than once with our eleven moving around the map, can be that a good head is getting older, or leaves, and things go downhill , whilst the contented parents, etc remain. With "catholic " schools the cruxifixes remain on the wall, mass, confessions, and a chaplain - then an unbelievable problem crops up, you talk to the chaplain say, and you find that, if orthodox, he has been shunted out of more and more, and so on.
    Signs can mean a place WAS good.The devil doesn't bar any holds with such.

  12. Hi Mike - got it! and with you totally. However, in my limited experience, the physical signs are the first thing that they ditch.
    It becomes a case of the class crucifix being gradually moved nearer the door until one day, bingo! it's vanished altogether.
    A bit like tabernacles in churches.
    God bless.

  13. Anthony - Yes, I do agree but the road of homeschooling is such a brave one to take I am not sure I could have taken it.
    Prayers offered on behalf of your wife and yourself for a safe delivery.

  14. Retro:

    School chapel
    Daily Mass
    Sung Latin on feast days in term.
    Benediction every Friday
    Silence in chapel
    Priest chaplain
    Mornng Assembly with prayers and a hymn
    Crucifix in every classroom
    Houses named after saints
    School song "Ora et Labora"
    Lessons halted at 12 noon to recite the Angelus, plus genuflection at "the Word was made flesh".
    Grace standing before and after lunch
    Catechism for juniors
    Bible History (NT) for seniors with contextual explanations of parables
    A school procession, hymns and Rosary to celebrate Mary's month of May
    Street procession with banners at Corpus Christi
    Children of Mary
    Legion of Mary
    Spiritual bouquets
    Fish on Friday (pretty gruesome it was), plus Wednesdays during Lent

    Not hard to guess that it was an old time convent school served by a parish church which then had three priests and now only has one.
    Sadly, Latin was later dropped from the timetable.
    The school closed and two other convent schools moved away from the diocese following the induction of a V2 bishop who made it clear he didn't like them.
    But, get this. We loved school!

  15. Gentry, you just outlined my Catholic education for sixteen years. Four more at a Catholic women's college.
    My children also experienced 16 years of Catholic education after Vatican II. Big difference in
    Catholic culture; items on your list were not taught or realized. Although as adults they are church involved and attend regularly their knowledge of the Faith is superficial.
    Now my 10 grandchildren attend Catholic schools at a huge expense to their parents. Emphasis appears to be on becoming an elite school in athletics and education. Traditional, cultural Catholicism is not present. What a shame;what a loss in just two generations. Lord have mercy on us .

  16. The same things occur on the other side of the pond. The Catholic school I have taught at for over four years only had 4 of the 10 traits. While we don't have government interference, per se, we have bishops and priests who don't care about their schools. The main efforts of those running the schools is the god of technology. Don't dare complain or you'll be branded conservative and tossed out.