The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium

On the Feast of the Holy Family in 1997, the Congregation for Catholic Education released this incisive document reflecting on the challenges facing Catholic schools in the postmodern age and the continuing mission of Catholic education in a fractured world.

Buttressing the Family

The writers note that students often “lack authentic models to guide them, often even in their own families”, and educators can provide “unpretentious yet caring and sensitive help offered in those cases, more and more numerous above all in wealthy nations, of families which are ‘fragile’ or have broken up.”

Indeed, for children and youth growing up in unhappy or unstable households, school can be a haven, a place where they can flourish in comparative peace and genuine love among their teachers and friends.


At the same time, “parents have a particularly important part to play in the educating community, since it is to them that primary and natural responsibility for their children’s education belongs.” Teachers are to collaborate with parents in the education of the young, creating a “personalised approach which is needed for an educational project to be efficacious.”

Holistic Formation

The document affirms that each Catholic school “sets out to be a school for the human person and of human persons.” In modern times, there has been a “noticeable tendency to reduce education to its purely technical and practical aspects”, which fails to nurture the humanity of each pupil, “the human person in his or her integral, transcendent, historical identity.”

The Catholic school is to be “a school for all” while maintaining its “ecclesial identity”, “a genuine instrument of the Church, a place of real and specific pastoral ministry.” This can be seen particularly on Catholic Education Sunday in Singapore, where pupils, teachers and parents from our Catholic pre-schools and schools participate in the Eucharist at parishes near their educational institutions, with students serving in various roles during Holy Mass.

Growth and Maturity

The Congregation states that Catholic education “demands an atmosphere characterised by the search for truth, in which competent, convinced and coherent educators, teachers of learning and of life, may be a reflection, albeit imperfect but still vivid, of the one Teacher”, that is, Christ. They add that “in the Christian educational project all subjects collaborate, each with its own specific content, to the formation of mature personalities.”


Instead of mere cogs in the economic machine, students are seen as young ladies and gentlemen to be formed in virtue, so that they may be instruments of love within their families and communities, wherever they may go in life.

Catholic educators are meant to be “spurred on by the aim of offering to all, and especially to the poor and marginalised, the opportunity of an education, of training for a job, of human and Christian formation… (with) fervent dedication which is a manifestation of Christ’s love for the poor, the humble, the masses seeking for truth.”

Within the World

The document continues: “The school cannot be considered separately from other educational institutions and administered as an entity apart, but must be related to the world of politics, economy, culture and society as a whole.”

Catholic education cannot take place within a silo, but is situated within the context of wider society, equipping students to live out the Gospel values in their homes and future places of employment, ushering in the Kingdom of God.