Louis DeThomasis, FSC, president of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota for more than twenty years and an educator for more than forty, believes that Catholic education can help the church through its current crisis, reestablish its relevance and vitality, and improve the church’s relationship with its members and the world at large. This can happen only if Catholic school is allowed to be school. That is, an institution of intellectual freedom and academic rigor, and not simply a propaganda venue, he writes in his new book, Dynamics of Catholic Education: Letting the Catholic School Be School (ACTA Publications, June 2013).
The Catholic school must identify itself as a true community of learners seeking knowledge, truth and wisdom,” DeThomasis says. “No interest group—not even the pope and the bishops—-should encumber responsible academic freedom.”
DeThomasis says some in the church are “more concerned with the cold dogma than with the warm body hearing it.” He criticizes attempts to dictate what books are permitted, who should speak at the school, which teachers to hire or let go, what plays may be presented, and who may be honored with an award. He calls for Catholic education “to resist the inappropriate infringement of its mission by the forces that see orthodoxy in terms of rigid formulistic statements of truth rather than the inclusive and holistic spirit of Christian love.”
In order to fulfill their mission, Catholic schools must:
•not bend to the demands of what critics consider orthodoxy just to keep the peace;
•allow students total freedom to seek, to question and to embrace their own doubts and convictions within a spirit of the total freedom of inquiry implied by the phrase faith seeking understanding;
•hold up the distinction between the public’s civil law and religious moral practice in a democratic society;
•honor their responsibility to be faithful to the church, while recognizing that a Catholic school’s institutional autonomy does not negate that faithfulness;
•foster a search for truth in dialogue with the world and culture in the rich Catholic intellectual tradition.
DeThomasis emphasizes that he is not recommending that Catholic schools ignore the teaching authority of the church. “The Catholic school has the obligation to present in a full and authentic way the teachings of the church,” he says. “What I am saying is that the institutional church should stand clear of the school and trust it to be Catholic.”
Dynamics of Catholic Education is a followup to DeThomasis’s book Flying in the Face of Tradition, which argued that the institutional church was in the midst of a quandary that could lead to its death. He believes that Catholic school can lead the church out of its crisis, “to a glorious transformation into what Jesus of Nazareth called the kingdom of God. Our job is nothing less than to renew the face of the earth.”
“If Catholic educators embrace tradition rather than traditionalism, we can and will be an effective and powerful force in aiding the church to relate to the faithful and the world writ large.”
About Louis DeThomasis, FSC
Brother Louis DeThomasis, FSC, was president and professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota from 1984-2005 and is the co-founder and former president of the Christian Brothers Investment Services (CBIS). He is currently the President of CBIS-Global based in Rome, where he now resides. A Christian Brother for more than four decades, Brother Louis is the author of Flying in the Face of Tradition: Listening to the Lived Experience of the Faithful (ACTA Publications), and many other books and articles on Christian education. He has received much recognition for his lifetime of service to the church.