Catholic Identity Assessment

Catholic Schools are perfectly positioned to provide the spiritual guidance that young people so greatly need and which they desperately seek.

Catholic School Identity Assessment

“Evangelization is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14).

These words from Pope Paul VI perfectly summarize the core of the Church’s identity. She has been given the supreme privilege of proclaiming God’s message of love, mercy and salvation for His people. She is called to be the mediator of salvific grace to the world. Such gifts cannot be hidden. By its very nature they must be shared.

Throughout the centuries, the Church has developed many ways, many methods for evangelizing, for sharing God’s saving message and grace. One of the most effective is the Catholic School.

By nature and design, the Catholic School is equipped with the necessary tools for proclaiming the Gospel and ensuring that its students have every opportunity to accept this ineffable gift.

In contemporary society, the Church finds its mission and importance as salient as ever. People throughout the world hunger for God’s word and His grace through the Sacraments of the Church. Therefore, the Church expends significant resources to build schools to help people learn about God’s love so they might respond better to that love and ultimately share it with a world that needs it so desperately.

In our country, we have been blessed with a vast network of Catholic Schools that serve students at every conceivable level from preschool through postgraduate studies. Catholics expend great effort to ensure that these schools are well staffed and funded, are academically excellent and provide students with activities that help them become well-rounded persons. In fact, these aspects are so important to the well being of a Catholic School, ways have been developed to measure empirically a school’s progress and success in each of these critical areas.

However, none of the areas listed above (funding, academic excellence, and success in extracurricular activities) is the defining aspect of a Catholic school. Most schools strive to achieve success in these areas. The defining aspect of a Catholic School, that which separates it from every other kind of educational institution or enterprise, is its Catholic identity.

With the pervasiveness of religious indifferentism and incessant turmoil about the role of religion in our society, there is a greater need than ever today to ensure that our schools’ defining quality is assessed. Are Catholic Schools fulfilling their primary mission to proclaim faithfully the Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the Catholic Church?

Running a Catholic school today is challenging for many reasons. On the spiritual level, young Catholics are constantly confronted by values antithetical to those of the Church. This causes tension within young people, who are already struggling with issues of self-identity and looking for meaning in their lives.

That is why a Catholic School is perfectly positioned to provide the spiritual guidance that young people so greatly need and which they desperately seek. When a Catholic School fails in its mission to help students grow in love of God and others, the consequences can be disastrous.

The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education recognizes this reality by way of admonition and encouragement in its document Education in a Catholic School:

For some of today’s youth, the years spent in a Catholic school seem to have scarcely any effect. They seem to have negative attitudes toward all the various ways in which a Christian life is expressed—prayer, participation in the Mass, or frequenting of the Sacraments. Some even reject these expressions outright especially those associated with an institutional Church. If a school is excellent as an academic institution, but does not witness to authentic values, then both good pedagogy and a concern for pastoral care make it obvious that renewal is called for—not only in the content and methodology of religious instruction, but in the overall school planning which governs the whole process of formation of the students (19).

The Catholic Education Initiative endeavors to provide Catholic Schools with a means for evaluating and assessing the success of its primary mission. The tool it uses to accomplish this is the Catholic School Identity Assessment (CSIA).

The CSIA is an innovative program designed to provide a Catholic School with several options for assessing its Catholic identity. A school can choose from three levels of evaluation, depending on the depth of analysis it desires.

The goal is to provide the Catholic School a means for 1) self-reflection by its administration, faculty and staff on how each of them works to support the Catholic identity of the school, and 2) provide the school with feedback from an independent third-party using a standard, objective set of criteria. (Check out this helpful set of tools.)

Because these standards are uniform and objective, this allows the opportunity for a school to measure its progress longitudinally, to chart over the course of years how well it is adhering to its primary mission. As part of each assessment, CEI will offer the school a set of conceptual and concrete recommendations that can be reassessed periodically.

In essence, CEI wants to help Catholic Schools create an environment in which Catholic culture not only thrives but permeates every aspect of the school’s life. The CSIA can help Catholic Schools form a concrete plan of action for creating this environment, to give glory to God and help its students love God above all things and their neighbors as themselves.

The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education sums it up perfectly this way:

From the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic school, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith, and having its own unique characteristics. The Council summed this up by speaking of an environment permeated with the gospel spirit of love and freedom (Education in a Catholic School, 25).

©2009 Catholic Education Initiative