Lay Catholics in School: Witnesses to Faith
Throughout history, men and women in the Catholic Church have devoted their lives to educating the young. St Jean Baptiste de la Salle is known as the Father of Modern Education, controversially providing free education to the poor in France, in a time when illiteracy was common as education was mainly reserved for the upper classes.
Most of our Catholic schools in Singapore were founded by religious brothers or sisters, who left behind their homes in Europe in order to bring the light of the Gospel to the Pearl of Orient. Yet, from the beginning, lay teachers have also been involved alongside the religious. St Jean Baptiste formulated programmes to train lay teachers and encouraged parents to be involved with the education of their children.
When the Canossian School for the Deaf was established in Singapore in 1956, Sr Natalia Tasca FDCC gathered a group of six to work with her – this was the beginning of the Lay Canossians, who now number over a hundred.
As vocations to the religious life have dwindled, the role of lay Catholic teachers has grown even more important. In 1982, the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education produced a document on this topic titled “Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith”. The Sacred Congregation observed: “Every person who contributes to integral human formation is an educator; but teachers have made integral human formation their very profession.”
The document goes on to state: “The task of a teacher goes well beyond transmission of knowledge, although that is not excluded. Therefore, if adequate professional preparation is required in order to transmit knowledge, then adequate professional preparation is even more necessary in order to fulfil the role of a genuine teacher. It is an indispensable human formation, and without it, it would be foolish to undertake any educational work.”
Indeed, the religious spend several years in formation before they are fully-fledged and ready for their life’s mission work; the same principle applies to teachers, who have the malleable minds and hearts of the next generation in their hands. We expect teachers to be well-qualified for their vocation, which is a demanding task. Just as in other professions where skills and knowledge must constantly be updated, teaching requires educators to regularly attend workshops and seminars to hone their methods.
The Sacred Congregation acknowledges that we live in a “pluralistic world”, while underscoring the Christian vision of the human person, made in the image and likeness of God. The Church “calls for the fullest development of all that is human, because we have been made masters of the world by its Creator… Thus, Catholic educators can be certain that they make human beings more human.”
The document continues: “The vocation of every Catholic educator includes the work of ongoing social development: to form men and women who will be ready to take their place in society, preparing them in such a way that they will make the kind of social commitment which will enable them to work for the improvement of social structures, making these structures more conformed to the principles of the Gospel. Thus, they will form human beings who will make human society more peaceful, fraternal, and communitarian.”
The vision of Catholic education in this document is truly inspiring, and well worth the read. May it remind educators of their noble calling, encouraging them in the holistic education of the youth.