Catholic education and the need for witnesses

In 1975, Pope Saint Paul VI, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelization in the Modern World, wrote, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” What is most needed in Catholic Schools today? Credible witnesses — teachers across all disciplines whose hearts have been captured by Christ and zealously accompany students in the pursuit of truth.

Father Stephen Prisk

For most of my life, I have been a student in a Catholic School — 25 of my 33 years. From elementary school through seminary and beyond, I have experienced Catholic education on many levels, taught by various religious communities, even in different languages and on another continent. The Catholic education I have received has formed me into the human person I am today. Out of my rich experience, what stands out most is the invaluable witness of teachers who joyfully modeled Christ for me and taught me to desire learning so that I might delight in becoming a self-learner.

Mrs. Joanne Storm taught me how to memorize my times tables. Mr. Walter McMahon taught me how to think critically. Prof. Joseph Bessler taught me about the wonder of our creation in Developmental Anatomy. Sister Alexandra Diriart, CSJ, taught me of the great beauty of the Sacraments and coached me while writing my thesis. These and many other Catholic educators helped form my whole person as they addressed the requirements of my natural and supernatural formation. They helped me understand something so essential to our personhood: I have the capacity of coming to the knowledge of truth.

Catholic educators have the daunting task of freeing children from the insidious consequences of what the late Pope Benedict XVI called the “dictatorship of relativism,” the lie that there is no universal truth. In a 2015 editorial piece in the New York Times, Justin P. McBrayer, associate professor of philosophy at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., shared his concerns about public education today. He gave concrete evidence as to how his son was taught moral relativism as part of an assignment that identified any claim with good, right, or wrong as not a fact but mere opinion.

As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, we celebrate the freedom parents have to choose Catholic Education. We are also soberly reminded of the current grave need for credible witnesses to serve as administrators and educators capable of inspiring a new generation of well-formed Christians ready to face the challenges of secular society as they give their lives to Christ in the pursuit of truth.

As a pastor of a Catholic School, I am well aware of the weighty responsibility with which I have been entrusted. It could seem daunting at times, but I know the most important thing that I can do is serve as a credible witness. Like the many teachers I was blessed to have throughout my life, I am called to joyfully proclaim Christ and accompany students, their families, and our faculty in the pursuit of truth. God will take care of the rest.

— By Father Stephen Prisk

Father Stephen Prisk is the pastor of Holy Spirit Parish and School in Pequannock. He is also the vice chancellor of the Diocese of Paterson.

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