Diocesan leaders attend Vatican education congress

ALLOUEZ — This month, the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education held a World Congress, called “Educating today and tomorrow: a renewing passion.” Held Nov. 18-21, the congress welcomed more than 2,000 educators from around the world, including the Diocese of Green Bay.

The congress marked the 50th anniversary of Vatican II’s declaration on Christian education (“Gravissimum educationis”) and the 25th anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution, “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” on Catholic colleges and universities.

Pope Francis gestures during a Nov. 21 audience for participants in a world congress sponsored by the Congregation for Catholic Education in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. (CNS photo | Maurizio Brambatti, EPA)

Joe Bound, director of education for the Green Bay Diocese; John Reetz, assistant director of education; Franciscan Sr. Kaye Klackner, superintendent of Catholic schools; and Jane Schueller, assistant superintendent of Catholic schools, attended.

Those gathered were asked to consider these themes: identity and mission of Catholic schools, the responsibilities of various education leaders, religious formation of teachers as well as students and challenges of today and tomorrow.

Schueller found one major theme was “the responsibility of Catholic education to teach about honoring and respecting the dignity of each person and to teach about the responsibility each person has to contribute to society in a positive way for the common good. Our students need to leave our schools with a consciousness that God is central and important to our world.”

According to the Vatican congregation, the congress aimed to offer a place to dialog; report on challenges; look at the role of Catholic education in an increasingly secular society; and develop some guidelines.

“We met people from all over the world,” Sr. Kay said. “Many communicated in English or we would struggle to get our message across, especially when trying to help each other. Kindness is a universal language.”

“From my perspective,” she added, “it was exciting to be part of the formation of leadership goal. It affirmed, for me, that our direction to provide good leadership for our schools is the right and true pathway.”

Reetz said one of the most enlightening quotes he heard from the speakers was that “the student experiences the dignity of the person before he/she knows the definition of it.” Reetz found that to be “a brilliant guiding principle for mission and identity for all of our Catholic schools.”

On the final morning of the congress, Pope Francis met with the educators, heard testimonies from Catholic schools and held an impromptu question-and-answer session. According to the Vatican Information Service, the pope addressed three questions: how educational institutions, present in a diverse range of nations, can be truly Christian; the meaning of the culture of encounter for all people involved in the promotion of education; and the future challenges posed to the educator by the current moments of war. To this, Pope Francis said, “The greatest failure of an educator is to educate ‘behind walls.’ … The walls of a selective culture, the walls of a culture of safety, the walls of a well-off social sector, that does not move ahead.”

Reetz, who found himself “within 10 feet” of the Holy Father, especially remembered Pope Francis saying “to be rigid is to not be human and not to be human is to be closed to Christ.”

“This thought,” Reetz said, “can be applied by all in schools as a measure of our faith commitment.”

Schueller was also struck by the pope’s advice against being rigid. She recalled him saying, “‘Where there is rigidity, there is no humanism, the doors are shut and you cannot let others in. When there is rigidity, there is no room for dialogue.”

“(The pope) encouraged educators,” Schueller said, “to be risk takers in teaching about love in formal and informal ways. Perhaps some of his final thoughts in this Year of Mercy were to reach out to those who don’t believe and that the role of education is to ‘humanize’ people.”

For Sr. Kay, the pope’s personality came through. “The passion and intensity of the pope struck me — an authenticity that is very striking,” she said. “He spoke of education as head, heart and hands. Knowledge is necessary, according to him, but the heart and service are key. Without the heart and hands, we have not truly educated.”

Looking back at the entire experience, Reetz said, “One of my takeaways was the feeling that the Catholic Link initiative in Green Bay among GRACE (schools), Notre Dame Academy and St. Norbert College is years ahead of its time.”

Catholic Link is a two-part program that links St. Norbert faculty and students with GRACE students to create unique learning opportunities for students.

Schueller was “reaffirmed in the fact that we (in the diocese) are already doing a lot of what was talked about, as far as formation for our administrators and teachers in understanding the mission and Catholic culture that must be present in all that we do.”

And Sr. Kay said the congress’ emphasis on the formation of educators and leaders was most exciting. “It affirmed for me that our direction to provide good leadership for our schools is the right and true pathway.”