ST. PAUL, June 3, 2015 (Kimberly Scharfenberger) - The efforts of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone in San Francisco to fortify Catholic identity were praised by Archbishop John Nienstedt of Saint Paul-Minneapolis, Minn., who told The Cardinal Newman Society that proper teacher formation is crucial to Catholic education.
"Catholic schools must be distinctive in our current culture, and the authentic witness that teachers and administrators can provide is crucial to forming disciples of Jesus Christ," Archbishop Nienstedt said in an interview with the Newman Society last week. "I would commend Archbishop Cordileone for his efforts."
Today's culture has made it increasingly important for teachers to provide "witness" to students and families. Archbishop Nienstedt remarked that "this is not always easy, as teachers are just as susceptible as others to the realities of temptation and sin." Nevertheless, he stressed that "intentionally striving to live as a witness in word and deed, practicing the natural and supernatural virtues and praying on a regular basis will offer a powerful witness."
Archbishop Nienstedt listed an ideal "combination of skills and qualities" for prospective teachers "that distinguish them for service to students." These are:
The most important part of a prospective teacher’s knowledge, he continued, is "a proper understanding of Catholic teaching on the human person."
Archbishop Nienstedt stated the importance of faithful Catholics constituting a majority of a school’s faculty and the dangers of allowing a dissenting teacher to instruct vulnerable students:
As much as possible, every teacher in a Catholic school should be a faithful Catholic in order to provide that powerful witness of faith. Baptized Catholics who openly or even subtly dissent from Catholic doctrine cannot provide a positive witness and instead sow confusion among impressionable young people. These people should never be hired by a Catholic school or if the issue arises after their hire, appropriate corrective steps should be taken up to and including dismissal if they obstinately refuse to correct their behavior.
In situations where a faithful Catholic who is proficient in a particular subject cannot be found for a faculty opening, Archbishop Nienstedt told the Newman Society that "it is certainly possible for a faith-filled non-Catholic to support the mission of a Catholic school." However, he noted that "these circumstances should be analyzed carefully prior to such a hire." As for administrators and school leaders, the Archbishop advised that these should all "be Catholic, without exception."
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis "does not formally recognize a teacher’s ministerial role," said Archbishop Nienstedt, regarding the efforts of some dioceses to indicate clearly that they are protected legally by the court-recognized "ministerial exception" to employment laws. But current employment policies in the Archdiocese do indicate that teachers "may be subject to immediate dismissal for 'public conduct which is inconsistent with the faith, morals, teachings, and laws of the Catholic Church.'"
"Any approach to education is really an outgrowth of a particular philosophy regarding the human person," Archbishop Nienstedt explained. "Thus, the Catholic teacher must have a fundamental understanding of our human nature, made in the image and likeness of God, weakened by original sin, and the need to be formed in wisdom, truth and moral character."
Originally published by Catholic Education Daily, an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society.