Pursuit requires discipline

Words can take on different meanings for different people over time. For some the word ‘discipline’ has a negative connotation, one which implies punishing correction, while the word ‘magisterium’ suggests a controlling authority. People with this stultified  understanding are deprived of the full, rich significance these words represent. A disciple is a follower. ‘Discipline’ is ‘following’. The person followed is a  teacher or, in Latin, ‘magister’ – hence the word ‘magisterium.’ While on earth Jesus was a teacher. His followers, his disciples, received what he taught and subsequently under the guidance of the Holy Spirit developed it over time. This is the magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church. It is not something imposed on us. Rather it is proposed to us as something we can reject, ignore or pursue.

Also, a driving motive behind Catholic education then was to protect the immigrant faith community from what was, or was perceived to be, a mainstream hostility to Catholicism in the public schools.

Since the days of Elizabeth Ann Seton (now Saint), organized Catholic education in the United States has been a reality, one formalized  by the nation’s bishops in their Plenary Councils of Baltimore in the latter half of the 19th century when parishes were mandated to have schools (hence ‘parochial’). At the same time private, independent schools were established by religious congregations. The vast majority of the teachers in these parochial and private Catholic schools were religious, that is consecrated women and men. Often referred to as the ‘golden age’ of Catholic education these years – really up through the 1950s – witnessed two distinguishing benefits made possible by the commitment of these religious: a) the cost of education was very low because of the ‘volunteer’ status of the teachers, and b) time in school was more than an academic pursuit because it was also an immersion in a vibrant and formative religious ambiance.

Also, a driving motive behind Catholic education then was to protect the immigrant faith community from what was, or was perceived to be, a mainstream hostility to Catholicism in the public schools.

As a consequence of, or at least coincident to, the Second Vatican Council in the early ’60s the religious and social mores of Catholics changed radically. Socially, freedom meant living with no regard for boundaries or restrictions. In the religious sphere authority was called into question. ‘Discipline’ became a dirty concept and the word ‘magisterium’ fell into a dusty desuetude. For decades the Barque of Peter was on choppy seas and Catholic education was not unaffected. The number of religious in the schools dwindled. Many schools closed. In those that stayed open lay teachers filled in, but at all levels – elementary, high school and university – the academic and religious experience for the students was less rigorous and edifying than it had been.

In more recent years, however, a growing number of laity have grown aware of the critical role Catholic education plays in our nation both for Catholics and for society at large. Responding to the call of Vatican II , they are stepping up to help shoulder the responsibilities of the faith. A noteworthy example is the Ave Maria University which opened its doors in 2003 outside of Naples, Florida. As its website explains (www.avemaria.edu) the University, faithful to the magisterium of the Church, exposes its students to the ongoing reflection of theologians and philosophers on the integration of the truths of the faith with current social, economic and cultural developments. Its academic integrity is informed by a vibrant and unapologetic religious milieu on campus. Envisioned and largely funded by the successful businessman, Thomas Monaghan, the school began with 100 students from 32 states. Five years later the number enrolled was almost 600 from 50 states and 29 countries. Clearly, the university is meeting a demand as a visit to its website will show.

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks Dana, I enjoyed reading the article. Best regards to you, Ed, and my brother Jim if you see him. Our St. Joseph’s Catholic School here in Greenville SC is thriving. God Bless! Bill Coffey

  2. Thanks Dana, I enjoyed reading the article. Regards to you, Ed and my brother Jim if you see him. Our St. Joseph’s Catholic School here in Greenville SC is thriving, we truly appreciate your early support. God bless! Bill Coffey

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