Catholic schools educate the whole person Print
Our Catholic Schools
Thursday, Sep. 05, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

Our Catholic Schools, by Michael Lancaster

As we begin September, we prepare to engage in the wonderful task of teaching and learning in Catholic schools.

Some may wonder and question why this task is any different than similar tasks undertaken by tens of millions of students and hundreds of thousands of teachers at public schools?

After all, aren’t all schools in the business of teaching and learning? Don’t all parents want basically the same things for our children — to educate them so they gain the knowledge and confidence necessary to succeed economically and socially, to instill traits that will ensure that they understand and fulfill their social responsibilities and perform well the duties of national and global citizenship?

Catholic schools succeed in student achievement

Absolutely. Indeed, the concern that American students be well prepared for both higher education and socio-economic success in a complex, global society has received much attention as both national and state governments have focused on student achievement, test scores, academic growth, and common curricular standards that will promote learning and achievement.

This fundamental mission of all schools is also embraced by Catholic schools. In fact, Catholic schools succeed at this task in compelling and undeniable ways.

According to the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also called “the nation’s report card,” students in private schools, the majority of which are Catholic, have been outperforming students in public schools in math, science, reading, and writing for years (http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/studies/2006459.asp).

This was verified recently by William Jeynes, a professor at California State University, who recently published the results of a study comparing private religious, public charter, and traditional public schools.

According to Jeynes, “The results indicate that attending private religious schools is associated with the highest level of academic achievement among the three school types” (http://www.capenet.org/pdf/Out look385.pdf).

As Catholic schools make up the largest group of non-public schools (43 percent) we can say with certainty that students in Catholic schools receive an excellent academic education.

Educating the whole person

While the academic record of Catholic schools is impressive, their real advantage would be missed entirely if one looked no further.

Catholic schools are founded on Christ, espouse the Gospel message, and embrace the truth that each and every child is a gift from God, created in His image, and worthy of His infinite love.

Our duty in Catholic schools is not merely to educate children for their own good and that of society, but to love them and accord them the dignity of a child of God. We do this by honoring our fundamental human nature as persons of integrated mind, body, and soul and realizing that an education of the mind is incomplete if the soul is neglected.

If we are truly to aid our students to become the people that God intends them to be, to follow after Christ and fully enter into our humanity, then we must educate their whole persons, body, mind, and soul.

When this happens, our students discover their God-given talents and abilities, and their responsibility to develop these not for their own glorification and success, but for the glory of God through service to others.

We strive to bring our students to know not only what their teachers expect of them, but what God expects of them.

Once this happens, they begin to understand that mediocrity and complacency are not options and, with the help of their teachers and supported by their Catholic school community of learning, faith, encouragement, and love, they strive every day to be the people God calls them to be.

If we are succeed in fulfilling our mission in Catholic schools, our students gradually adopt an attitude of internal motivation and higher purpose as they recognize and answer a calling much greater than any social or material success.

They learn to recognize and respond to God’s call in their lives, and that makes all the difference.


Michael Lancaster is superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Madison.