My priest-boss often says, “a school is only as Catholic as its faculty.”  Rare as it is, our school is Catholic because our staff, administration, and teachers are Catholic. We even drink “Biblical beverages” at our lunch meetings--just to seal the deal on the Catholicity.

Serving alcohol goes well beyond the desire to reward the teachers at the end of what is always a very exhausting work week. I believe it was an intentional decision to set a certain leisurely mood to create an atmosphere of friendship among the faculty. Because community and friendship is central to the renewal of Catholic education--assuming the education proposed is Catholic in the first place.

A Catholic Education

At the school, everyone from the science to the art teacher is a disciple. The administration is intentional in hiring for mission. Academic rigor and intentional discipleship can and should coexist. Catholic identity isn’t restricted to the external structures such as crucifixes in the classrooms and obligatory prayers before classes. The interior life of the teacher matters and if anyone can sniff out hypocrisy it’s a teenager. Students can tell the difference between “Catholic” and Catholic. One student asked me, “How come my math class is about God too somehow?”

However, external structures do matter.  So we offer two optional masses a day (one in the morning before school and one at lunch), daily lunchtime confessions (The President-rector and school chaplain take turns with the masses and confessions), Eucharistic processions, monthly rosaries, First Friday Eucharistic Adoration, All-School masses (Latin mass parts, Ad Orientem, Communion rails, etc,), and having three Dominican sisters teaching for us doesn’t hurt either.

But while Orthodoxy and the right structures in place is fundamental, it is not enough for a Catholic education. If by “Catholic education” one means conversion and not merely effective legislation of morality. Virtuous acts after all are not the same as virtue. Achieving the former is hard enough but is not the end of education.

“No one lives alone, no one sins alone, no one is saved alone.” ~Pope Benedict XVI

Community and friendship are the answers, yes--but community and friendship inspired by the Holy Spirit primarily in the faculty and staff. Educating is rough, the needs of our students are beyond our capacity, and our desire to help them is overwhelming for the one who is in touch with their busy and broken lives. Despite the blood, sweat, and tears, the pious hard work and effort all-too-easily slips into moralism without the Holy Spirit forming friendships among the educators firstly.

It seems like the weaker position to say the solution is to “rely on the Holy Spirit.” The phrase can come to mean academic and evangelical laziness or be reduced to a Christian-sounding abstraction justifying our best ideas and intentions.

However, if the Holy Spirit isn’t converting souls at our schools are we relying too much on our own resources? Bishop Sheen calls “the Divine Guarantee,” Jesus’ promise to make us fishers of men (Luke 5:10) not fishers for men.

The Risk of Education

There is no authentic community without communing with the Holy Trinity. Educators must have a deep prayer life. This reality means having enough faith to choose to do less and pray more. St. Ignatius of Loyola actually said “Work as if everything depends on God, pray as if everything depends on you.” Prayer means creating enough margin space in life for the Holy Spirit to speak in the silence. What does He want for you? What is He teaching you through your relationships with your students? What does He want for the school? Which student or colleague is He asking you to reach out to? Prayer means paying attention to these questions and waiting for the Holy Spirit’s promptings. Prudent action follows prayer; not the other way around. 

The administration must do everything in its power to support a meditative and contemplative prayer life of the faculty. Perpetual self-gift needs renewal. There’s no renewal of a school without renewal of the teacher and renewal, like conversion, must happen again and again. I wonder what would happen if administrative energy was focused more on this and less on other projects? What kind of apostolic creativity might emerge? What problems would be solved simply by the manifestation of charisms discerned? What if the balm of authentic collegial friendship replaced teacher burnout? No teacher is an island. No good teacher is an island. Even the disciples of Jesus were sent on mission two by two. (Luke 10:1) 

The business of educating is humiliating. It might as well be the anointed sort of humiliation. Sometimes friendship is consoling and merciful and other times it is uncomfortable and corrective. What might happen to us and to our students when both administrators and teachers really have the courage to become friends in Christ? It might be risky. But then again so was every other movement of the Church that radically changed history. 

Simone Rizkallah teaches high school seniors moral theology and Church history. She earned her graduate degree in theological studies with an emphasis in systematic theology from Christendom College. She blogs at