During his tenure as the secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education (now part of the Dicastery for Culture and Education), Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, delivered a talk that outlined the five essential marks of a Catholic school. His fifth mark called for schools to be “sustained by a Gospel witness,” a responsibility borne primarily by the dedicated men and women who serve the students in the classroom every day. The archbishop wrote, “More than a master who teaches, a Catholic educator is a person who gives testimony by his or her life.” Later published as The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools, the archbishop’s text has become the framework on which the Office of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Columbus has built its strategic vision for the future of Catholic education in central and southern Ohio.
In our diocese, we have actualized the archbishop’s vision of education into a mission of being an authentic and unapologetically Catholic school system. In order for this vision to become a reality, it requires us to strengthen and fortify in a deliberate and well-structured way the witnesses who make Catholic education happen in every classroom. Archbishop Miller emphasized the importance of those who serve in the ministry of schools by citing Gravissimum Educationis: “it depends chiefly on them whether the Catholic school achieves its purpose.” With that high calling in mind, we must regard our administrators and teachers as ministers of our faith and support them in their essential mission as catechists.
Forming Missionary Catechists
Starting in 2019, the Diocese of Columbus recognized the importance of actively and intentionally forming our administrators and teachers so that they can be excellent catechists. Dr. James Pauley observed, “Today’s catechist is a missionary, though not in the sense of traveling to distant lands. Rather, we offer the content of the Gospel to people who live near us, yet who experience cultural influences increasingly foreign to Christianity.” In Catholic schools, administrators and teachers are missionaries in their classrooms, inviting their students to know and love Jesus Christ every day while combatting the foreign influences of the secular culture.
In the foreword to Dr. Pauley’s book, Dr. Scott Hahn emphasized, “Everybody needs a catechist. Even catechists need to be catechized. Even theologians need to be catechized. We all need to revisit and review the basics.” In that same spirit, we realized that we must intentionally catechize the catechists of our diocese through a program of formation for the nearly 1,200 school employees in our diocese. Our goal was to ensure that a common, baseline knowledge of our faith and vision for Catholic instruction was shared among everyone coming into contact with our Catholic school students. Enrolling our new school employees in Franciscan University of Steubenville Catechetical Institute proved to be the ideal method for achieving this goal.