Students have the right to learn the Church's teaching in all its richness
Dear Cardinal George, Dear Brother Bishops, 1. In the course of this series of ad limina visits, the Bishops of the
United States have again borne witness to the keen sense of communion of American Catholics with the Successor
of Peter. From the beginning of my Pontificate I have experienced this closeness, and the spiritual and material
support of so many of your people. In welcoming you, the Bishops of the ecclesiastical regions of Chicago,
Indianapolis and Milwaukee, I express once more to you and to the whole Church in your country my heartfelt
gratitude: "God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the Gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you
always in my prayers" (Romans 1:9). Continuing the reflection begun with previous groups of Bishops on the renewal of
ecclesial life in the light of the Second Vatican Council and in view of the challenge of evangelization which we face on
the eve of the next millennium, today I wish to address some aspects of your responsibility for Catholic education.
Clear vision of Church's educational mission
2. From the earliest days of the American Republic, when Archbishop John Carroll encouraged the teaching vocation
of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and founded the new nation's first Catholic college, the Church in the United States has
been deeply involved in education at every level. For more than 200 years, Catholic elementary schools, high
schools, colleges and universities have been instrumental in educating successive generations of Catholics, and in
teaching the truths of the faith, promoting respect for the human person, and developing the moral character of their
students. Their academic excellence and success in preparing young people for life have served the whole of
As we approach the third Christian millennium, the Second Vatican Council's call for generous dedication to the
whole enterprise of Catholic education remains to be more fully implemented (cf. Gravissimum Educationis, n. 1).
Few areas of Catholic life in the United States need the leadership of the Bishops for their reaffirmation and renewal
as much as this one does. Any such renewal requires a clear vision of the Church's educational mission, which in
turn cannot be separated from the Lord's mandate to preach the Gospel to all nations. Like other educational
institutions, Catholic schools transmit knowledge and promote the human development of their students. However,
as the Council emphasized, the Catholic school does something else: "It aims to create for the school community an
atmosphere enlivened by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity. It aims to help the young person in such a way that
the development of his or her own personality will be matched by the growth of that new creation which he or she has
become by Baptism. It strives to relate all human culture eventually to the news of salvation, so that the light of faith
will illumine the knowledge which students gradually gain of the world, of life, and of the human family" (ibid., n. 8).
The mission of the Catholic school is the integral formation of students, so that they may be true to their condition as
Christ's disciples and as such work effectively for the evagelization of culture and for the common good of society.
3. Catholic education aims not only to communicate facts but also to transmit a coherent, comprehensive vision of
life, in the conviction that the truths contained in that vision liberate students in the most profound meaning of human
freedom. In its recent document The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, the Congregation for
Catholic Education drew attention to the importance of communicating knowledge in the context of the Christian vision
of the world, of life, of culture and of history: "In the Catholic school there is no separation between time for learning
and time for formation, between acquiring notions and growing in wisdom. The various school subjects do not
present only knowledge to be attained but also values to be acquired and truths to be discovered" (n. 14).
The greatest challenge to Catholic education in the United States today, and the greatest contribution that
authentically Catholic education can make to American culture, is to restore to that culture the conviction that human
beings can grasp the truth of things, and in grasping that truth can know their duties to God, to themselves and their
neighbours. In meeting that challenge, the Catholic educator will hear an echo of Christ's words: "If you continue in My
word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32). The
contemporary world urgently needs the service of educational institutions which uphold and teach that truth is "that
fundamental value without which freedom, justice and human dignity are extinguished" (Veritatis Splendor, n. 4).
To educate in the truth, and for genuine freedom and evangelical love, is at the very heart of the Church's mission. In
a cultural climate in which moral norms are often thought to be matters of personal preference, Catholic schools have
a crucial role to play in leading the younger generation to realize that freedom consists above all in being able to
respond to the demands of the truth (cf. Veritatis Splendor, n. 84). The respect which Catholic elementary and
secondary schools enjoy suggests that their commitment to transmitting moral wisdom is meeting a widely-felt
cultural need in your country. The example of Bishops and pastors who, with the support of Catholic parents, have
persevered in leadership in this field should encourage everyone's efforts to foster new dedication and new growth.
The fact that some Dioceses are involved in a programme of school building is a significant sign of vitality and a great
hope for the future.
Next installment: part two