Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller underlines the imperative for Catholic Schools 'to hold fast to and foster their Catholic isentity.'


Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller underlines the imperative for Catholic Schools 'to hold fast to and foster their Catholic isentity.'

March 16, 2009

EDMONTON –– The main gift of Catholic schools is their “uncompromising Catholicity,” said the archbishop of Vancouver.

Catholic schools are not just institutions where religious instruction is tacked on to a state-directed program, Archbishop Michael Miller said in the Archbishop Anthony Jordan lecture series March 5.

Rather, the Catholic identity of the school “penetrates and informs” every moment of its activity, the archbishop said.

The principle function of Catholic schools is “to hold fast to . . . and foster their Catholic identity,” he said.


Miller, former secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education and a member of the Basilian order, delivered the March 5-6 Jordan lecture series at Newman Theological College on Catholic education in the third millennium.

Newman College and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate sponsor the annual series.

“I love education,” the 62-year-old archbishop said as he began the first of his three talks in the series. “It’s what I’ve always wanted to do since I was about 12 years old.”

The Catholic nature of the school is a responsibility of the whole Church, he said. The Church has the right to establish and direct schools in any field of study and it sees its schools and universities as part of its mission of evangelization.

In that mission, Catholic education is a privileged place for promoting the development of the whole person, the archbishop said.


The Church, he said, must ask how any school or university participates in the mission of evangelization. “Are your schools really Catholic or are they only nominally Catholic?”

He outlined four principles that he said should be part of assessing the Catholicity of any educational institution.

First is the degree to which the school respects the transcendent dignity of the student. Students are “created in the image of God and called to life in the Holy Spirit.”

“They are to be taught how to live in this world with their eyes fixed on the vision of God.”

Second is the central place given to the person of Jesus Christ in the life of the school. Every Catholic school, Miller said, should be a place of encounter with Jesus. Jesus and the principles of his Gospel should be the model for the Catholic school “because he is the light who enlightens everyone who goes into that building.”

A third principle is that Catholic schools must have a solid and a sound Christian understanding of the human person. “It is by looking to Christ that we understand who we are.”

Fourth, the school must display a “sacramental sensitivity” to the richness of Catholic life. The school’s physical environment should embody the values of the Church’s devotional, intellectual and artistic tradition.

Catholic schools “should suffuse the environment with a delight in the sacramental and a respect for the sacred.”

Miller was asked during a question period what the Church should do when a school fails to live up to those principles.

The principles, he said, are mainly meant to help the schools evaluate themselves. “Most institutions will always to some extent fail.”


If, however, a school shows no desire “to seize its own Catholic identity” and is indifferent to the Church’s evangelizing mission, it may lead to conversations with the bishop who is entrusted with ensuring the Catholicity of institutions in his diocese.

If many conversations over many years do not spark a change, the bishop may have to make a decision that the school can no longer publicly present itself as Catholic, he said.

Such decisions, Miller said, are more common with institutions of higher learning than with elementary and secondary schools.

In another talk, the archbishop spoke of Catholic education as “a shared responsibility which involves the family, the Church and government authority.”

The family is the primary educator of the child, while Church and state have a secondary role, he said. Schools are the principle partners in helping parents carry out their responsibility.

“Like a good mother, the Catholic Church merely offers its help to families.”

Totalitarian states, he noted, begin with the principle that the state, not the family, has the primary, if not the sole, responsibility for education.

Government authorities must respect the natural rights of parents and the Church to educate children. They should, Miller said, provide financial assistance to parents in bearing the cost of education.

Letter to the Editor – 11/25/13