A reflection on the nature and purpose of Catholic Education: Marymount International School, Paris

Marymount International School, Paris is a Catholic school and as part of the network of RSHM schools we are guided in our mission by the words of Jesus “I come so that all may have life.” The words of Christ, that constitute the mission of our founding order resonate in the words of Gravissimum Educationis, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on Christian Education, which states, “Holy Mother Church must be concerned with the whole of man’s life. … Therefore she has a role in the progress and development of education.” We at Marymount as a Catholic School, within the network of the RSHM have a duty to adhere to these words in all that we do. Self reflection is an essential part of Christianity and similarly we as an institution have a duty to reflect upon how well we are fulfilling our mission and subsequently to celebrate our success and ensure that we set targets for improvement where we have shortcomings. Strategic Planning, Target Setting and all aspects of quality assurance must be focused first and foremost upon ensuring that Marymount, Paris, is an outstanding Catholic school. After all that is our raison d’etre.

Our teachers and staff at Marymount do a wonderful job of providing holistic education for our children. Children are happy at our school. There is an atmosphere of love and joy. We are a real community. The spirit of 93 years of Marymount, Paris is evident in all our classrooms. The environment is most certainly conducive for learning! Whilst been proud of our success and our wonderful school it is imperative that at the same time we recognize that, like any other catholic school, it is essential that we articulate our philosophy of catholic education correctly and in accordance with the teachings of the Church and the goals and criteria of the RSHM. This is a duty of all members of the faculty and administration. It is our Catholic ethos and identity that makes us distinctive. It is what “Marymount” is all about. It is our history, our tradition, our culture.

Sister John Mary Fleming, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Catholic Education, said “A Catholic philosophy of education deals with the essence of the human person as a child of God who is made in the image of God. One of the ends or goals of Catholic education is to teach children to live well here and now so that they can live with God in eternity. That means engaging culture and society in a specifically Christian way that contributes to the general welfare of society.”

At Marymount, Paris, we have some truly inspiring teachers. As is oft said in educational circle children may well forget what they were taught in school but they never forget who taught them. Many of our teachers come from communities of faith. Some are Catholic, others Christians of other denominations, some of other world faiths and others who deem themselves of no religious affiliation. This is not uncommon in a catholic school in Europe or North America and in many ways can be a positive feature of a school serving the needs of a diverse community, many of whom come from a religious background other than Catholic, or even Christian. The essential point is that all staff in a Catholic school need to have an understanding of the philosophy that underpins the nature and purpose of a catholic school. This is essential for all members of the faculty and not just those who teach Religion to our children. Anyone who has daily contact with our children at Marymount has a duty to bear witness to the values and beliefs that underpin the Catholic Church. It is for this reason that an important priority for the professional development of our staff is to ensure that all have an understanding of the nature and purpose of Catholic schools and of the mission of the RSHM.

In the secular world teachers are often feted as role models for their students but in the sphere of catholic education it is essential that a teacher go beyond being this and lives his/her life as a witness to Christ and to the living out of gospel values. It is the duty of an educator in a catholic school to instill in his/her students the values of respect, forgiveness, openness and joy and to cherish each student and to be sensitive to the diverse talents, abilities and needs of each one. In doing so we seek to create unity through diversity. This may sounds complicated but it is exemplified every minute of every day by the way our staff interact with the children in their care. Perhaps above all else that we do at Marymount it is the love that exists in our community that makes us so distinctive?

A recurring theme in documentation emulating from Conferences of Catholic Bishops across the world is the crucial nature of the relationship between School, Home and the Parish (the latter in the case of Catholic students.) The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops states that the mission of Catholic education is to provide a particular environment for New Evangelization by presenting the Gospel anew within the school and parish communities whilst providing support for parents who may not feel entirely comfortable delivering catechetical programs to their children. As a result the S. Conference of Catholic Bishops envision Catholic schools as communities of the New Evangelization. In order to make the process of New Evangelization, faith formation, catechesis, sacramental preparation and the nature and purpose of the study of Religion we at Marymount wish to work with our parental body and wider community to ensure that it is a lived reality. We recognize that we can be a vehicle for supporting some of our parents by offering more opportunities for communal prayer, holy hours, stations of the cross and the celebration of the Mass. All our celebrations, liturgies and para-liturgies are inclusive and are designed to allow children to develop their own spiritual identity whether as Catholics, Christians of other denominations and of other faiths. At Marymount we promote personal and communal prayer and reflection through multi-faith services as well as those more in keeping with our Catholic heritage. As a community of faith we seek to empower each individual to understand, live and bear witness to his/her faith whilst maintaining a respectful awareness of others’ beliefs.

We are on a journey of faith together as a community. We often talk about Student Learning Outcomes in educational circles. But what is our desired “outcome” for our children, or for that matter ourselves. For most of us that is an eschatological dimension – something beyond our current reality. In establishing our personal relationships with God we can subsequently grow as a community of faith and journey together towards passing the ultimate test and securing everlasting life.

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