The Twelve Fruits Of Catholic Education

Please welcome a very special guest post for our Catholic Education symposium by the famous Sister Patricia Owens O’Flannery, from LarryD’s award-winning blog Acts of the Apostasy

The year was 1972. It was my first year teaching elementary school in the Diocese of Walla Walla, and a most exciting time to be involved in Catholic education. We were awash with the effervescence of the Holy Spirit, freshly released by the Second Vatican Council, free to touch the minds and hearts and souls of all Catholics, no longer the exclusive property of the hierarchy. I, along with five other sisters of my order, burned our wimples out behind the monkey bars during lunch while the students watched and cheered. Those were heady days. Our hair’s newfound freedom was reflected in the methods and means by which we instructed and taught – you could say that the seeds of today’s faith were planted in those days, and we are in these very moments experiencing the fruits of our labors.

But much has changed since my teaching days, which ended abruptly in 1983, when the newly-appointed bishop rudely demanded that our order vacate the school. Without dialogue even! Our feelings were truly hurt when we packed up our Resurrection ankhs and the Navaho dream-catchers the Religion class students made. The Spirit was being suppressed again. Sophia was forced to sit at the back of the class, again. It was if Vatican II had never happened.

As I travel around the world (I just returned from the ancient Incan ruins of Peru, where I transcribed temple hieroglyphs into a new interpretive liturgical dance – it’s simply marvelous!), I meet many like-minded Catholics who have had similar experiences, where free expression of the Spirit is reined in with Orthodoxy; where creativity is stifled by Tradition. It doesn’t have to be this way. I believe that if we allow Sophia to grace us with her blessings – The Twelve Fruits – and apply those blessings to Catholic education, we will recapture the excitement and fervor and self-esteem building that our faith so desperately needs.

Now, traditionally, the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit have been recognized as joy, peace, charity, patience, benignity, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, continency and chastity. Those are all very good, and they have their place in the faith life of every living thing. But when it comes to revitalizing Catholic education, I propose we allow the Holy Spirit to transmogrify those fruits into a new newness of newnessness.

1. Happiness – this is very important. When I taught, I made sure the students were happy all the time. The happier they were, the happier I was. So – everyone’s happy!

2. Peace – it’s crucial that students understand that war is bad. Very bad. Unless the President is someone you support – then it’s tolerable. To keep the students happy, I never spoke about war or combat or battling of any kind.

3. Tolerance – teach the students to respect other beliefs and customs. Never put up with someone who’s intolerant, though. Gently remind them that being intolerant won’t be tolerated.

4. Social Justice – this is also one of the four cardinal virtues – and it is so vital and important, it has to be mentioned twice.

5. Self-esteem – I tried very hard to keep the students’ spirits high. It’s so easy to do, too, when you remember that Jesus wants everyone to feel good about themselves all the time.

6. Dialogue – it is so important to talk things out, to discuss and confer, to really listen, to engage. Even if a decision is never made – just let your students know you value their opinion above all else.

7. Open-mindedness – truth is everywhere in the world, so students must be prepared to recognize it no matter what form it’s in. Focusing on “our truth vs. their truth” impedes open-mindedness.

8. Harmony – this is similar to peace, but focuses more on one’s relationship with ecology and environment.

9. Diversity – this fruit can best be summed up in the great philosophical question: “Can’t we all just get along?”

10. Income redistribution – this is similar to charity. Jesus said that those who have much, much will be required. So it’s only fair that the rich give more to everyone else, because they’ve got more than enough.

11. Equality – the students ought to learn that we are all the same, in terms of gifts, calling, and outcomes. As St Paul wrote, there is no longer male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek.

12. Conscience – it’s vital that students are told that if they have thought long and hard on something, and struggled to come to a decision, then it’s good and right, because they are following their conscience.

To be honest, much of what I’ve described is not new – many of these ideas were expounded upon without fail when I was involved with Catholic education. I daresay that such practices left a lasting impact upon the Church. We didn’t focus on doctrine, or dogma, or explaining the truths of the faith – those things were fine in the abstract, but we felt the students would be unprepared for a pluralistic and ever-changing world. We helped the students explore their feelings; we invited them to draw pictures of God; we encouraged them to spread their wings and fly among the clouds of inter-faith interaction and ecumenism. You can see where that has gotten us – we live in a world where Catholics think for themselves, determine their own faith paths, and live according to the dictates of their consciences. Turning our backs on the fields we ploughed generations ago would mean that what was done then was somehow wrong, or insufficient, or lacking.

Such an attitude is not open-minded. So let me ask a question: can’t we all just get along?

Sister Patricia Owens-O’Flannery, OP, is a post-modern pre-traditional omni-spiritual Dominican sister who periodically contributes to LarryD’s award-winning blog Acts of the Apostasy. Any resemblance to a real person is strictly coincidental…

 

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