Driving from Camberwell to Balwyn on weekdays in February is a clear reminder that school is back. The traffic is intense along Whitehorse Road, Mont Albert Road and Burke Road. And even heavier in the cross roads and side streets, as students pour out of cars, trams and buses to fill Early Learning Centres to Year 12 campuses. Another year of learning. Another year of discovery. Another year of growth. In the midst of this diverse school landscape sit our Catholic Schools. They too open their doors to all and prepare for another year of learning, discovery and growth. As our schools return it causes me to reflect on the nature and purpose of our own Catholic schools and their distinctive character.
The Catholic school is founded on the belief that every person is made in the image and likeness of God. We should stop and think about what that means. It can too easily become just a slogan. To say that every person is made in the image and likeness of God means that each person has within them the capacity to know God, to be known by God and to make God known to others. This implies that the human person has a radical openness to the reality of the world that surrounds them. Each person can grow and transcend their own reality, discovering more about themselves and the God in whose image they are made. The human person is capable of both knowledge and disclosure. The human person can search for truth and reveal to others the truth they have come to know.
At the same time the human person can be wounded and betrayed. In this way, each person is a fragile, open, searching and interpreting being. This fragile, open, knowing, interpreting space, that is the human person, has often been described as the soul. (Hence we hear people talk about a lost soul, a happy soul, a restless soul). The Catholic school first and foremost recognises that each student (teacher and adult) is made in the image and likeness of God, and assists students to tune into this sacred space that each of us is. The Catholic school environment allows for growth and discovery of who I am. All of this is done in the light of the person of Jesus Christ who is the centre of the mission of the Catholic school. Coming to know the person of Jesus and the Gospel in an invitational way, is the offer that the Catholic school makes to all students as they gradually discover the meaning of life and develop their aspirations as to who they will be in the future.
Those who work in Catholic education must have a deep sensitivity to the sacred space that is at the heart of every student. They are called to walk alongside them and to hold before them light and life that the Gospel can bring to every life.
By Fr Brendan Reed
For more about the idea of the human person made in the image of God see Didier Pollefeyt, The Lustre of Life
Published: 2 February 2024