Do Our Catholic Schools Have Mission Integrity?: Part 1
by Prof Gerald Grace, of St Mary’s University Twickenham
I would like to begin this lecture by pointing out that the main question named for this presentation, necessarily provokes 3 subsidiary questions. These are:-
- What is the meaning of the concept of ‘Mission Integrity’ and of its opposite ‘Mission Drift’ and why is it important in the academic and research field known as Catholic Education Studies?
- Assuming for the present that it is important, how can we increase research which investigates the existence of ‘Mission Integrity’ or ‘Mission Drift’ in Catholic schools, nationally and internationally. On the latter point we must not focus only on ‘Our Catholic Schools’ as meaning those in the UK but rather our Catholic schools, meaning the 200,000 which exist internationally. We must, if we are Catholics always remember that we are part of an international Church (It was for this reason that I edited the first ever survey of research on Catholic education worldwide, reported in International Handbook of Catholic Education (2 vols) in 2007 and launched the first ever journal, International Studies in Catholic Education in 2009).
- However, it will be of interest to raise the question, ‘is the state of mission integrity of Catholic schools in the UK likely to be any different from those in other countries?
1 What is ‘Mission Integrity’ and its opposite ‘Mission Drift’?
We need to be clear about what we mean by ‘mission’.
- Catholic education in its various forms of school, college, university and seminary is faced with the challenge of attempting to mediate to children, youth and adults some understanding of, and some engagement with the nature and the power of the sacred, which Emile Durkheim in his classic study, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912) defined as ‘superior in dignity and power to the elements of mundane life, to things ‘set apart’, to notions of the transcendent and divine, of souls and spirits and of the ultimate destiny of persons’ (p.422) – an inclusive definition which applies to all major religious groups.
- For the Catholic Christian tradition this means in practice, engagement with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and of the saints, regular participation in the Holy Mass, understanding the spiritual and moral teachings of the Church and the study and practice of Catholic Social Teaching. Catholic education, in all its forms, is a mission (inspired by Jesus Christ to ‘Go and Teach all Nations’ (Mt. 28.19); the Catholic school is not just a social or economic enterprise, it has higher purposes which relate to the formation of good people, of good citizens and of good Christians. That is its ultimate mission – a mission of personal transformation.
- Mission Integrity highlights a central concept in all my writing, research and conference presentations. Having always insisted that Catholic education is a mission and not just a social or business enterprise and having emphasised the importance of mission statements as a condensed form of the theology of Catholic schooling, the issue of the nature of mission integrity in our contemporary Catholic education naturally arose as a focus for research.
- In 2002, I defined Mission Integrity as ‘fidelity in practice and not just in public rhetoric to the distinctive and authentic principles of Roman Catholic education’ (p498). In other words, all schools in a prospectus or other marketing literature proclaim to parents what the fundamental principles are which permeate and regulate their ethos and educational practice.
The research question here is, to what extent does their actual day-to-day practice articulate with these public principles? To the extent to which there is a high degree of articulation, then it may be said that such a school has high mission integrity. To the extent to which there is low articulation, then it may be said that a school is experiencing mission drift.
- Mission drift may be defined as ‘an unintentional historical process which causes a school in its practices to move away from its foundational mission principles’. This ‘drift’ may be caused by many factors eg. weak mission leadership from headteachers and governors, changed expectations from parents and external pressures from government policies and agencies and the effects of local and national media publicity about educational ‘success’.
- If mission drift in Catholic schools should be found to be happening on a large scale, then the claim by Catholics that their schools have a distinctive spiritual educational ethos can be questioned and, over time, they could become ‘integrated’ with secular state schooling systems.
2 Who has the authority to define mission integrity for Catholic schools? The Roman Catholic Church and the definition of Mission Integrity
- In 1977, the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education decided that the time had come to make an authoritative statement about ‘the distinctive and authentic principles’ which should characterise Catholic schools internationally. The document issued at the time, Simply called, The Catholic School can be regarded’ as the foundation charter and universal mission statement for Catholic schools’ (Grace 2016). It can be said that while certain local or situational adjustments may have to be made by schools in some locations (caused by cultural, ideological and economic circumstances) no school which claims the title ‘Catholic’ can be seriously at odds with the principles proclaimed by the Congregation in 1977.
- The Catholic School (1977) document is therefore the authoritative guide for any research studies relating to mission integrity / mission drift.
PLEASE TURN TO PART 2 PAPER – click here to read part 2
Durkheim, E. (1912/1971) The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life London, Allen and Unwin.
Grace, G. (2002) ‘Mission Integrity: Contemporary Challenges for Catholic School Leaders’ in Second International Handbook of Educational Leadership and Administration: Part 1, Dordrecht, Kluwer Academic.
Grace, G. (2016) Endorsement for re-print of the Catholic School, London, CTS
Sacred Congregation for
Catholic Education (1977) The Catholic School, Rome, Liberia Editrice Vaticana