Dr. Gail Donahue on Educating to Fraternal Humanism
Do I have time to read a Church document and reflect on it? Not usually, but having listened to Catholic School Matters podcast series on Church documents, I was intrigued by the task. Perhaps some of my thoughts will give you pause and a desire to check it out.
Expanding on ideas from the post-Vatican II encyclical letter Populorum Progressio, Educating to Fraternal Humanism challenges Catholics to dialogue and act in solidarity on social justice inequities. Ironically, in the fifty years since Populorum Progressio, we find ourselves living in a globalized world with astonishing achievements in technology and science but find it difficult to coexist due to a host of inequalities. How does the Church answer this dilemma? Published in April 2017, Educating to Fraternal Humanism calls for Catholic education to work towards “humanizing education”, putting the person at the center of intellectual, moral and civic education while cultivating relationships that form a community.
How is this different? How is it more challenging? The Church sees Catholic schools as the conduit to the formation of students in a culture of true dialogue, even suggesting Catholic higher ed design dialogue courses and share research. The document explains that “fraternal humanism” dialogue goes beyond the usual exchange of ideas to a deep respect for the dignity of all those present, regardless of faith or cultural background: dialogue based in freedom coupled with a commitment to action. Pope Francis believes such deep dialogue is necessary and will, “…build bridges and …find answers to the challenges of our time”.
Having just returned from the NCEA convention, themes from Educating to Fraternal Humanism are resonating. After days of discourse, the importance of being inclusive, of understanding that everyone has a story and that we need to take time to listen to that story to fully understand another’s experience was truly humanizing. For me, the idea that Catholic universities can and should assume a leadership role in forming communities of dialogue and networks of collaborative research and formation supports the body of work currently being discussed by members of CHESCS (Catholic Higher Ed Supporting Catholic Schools) and NCEA.
Finally, as I re-read the document and reflected on conversations, I feel compelled to heed the Pope’s challenge for Catholic educators to create needed change in our schools by dissolving our “thought bubbles” and replacing them with what he calls the three languages: head, heart, and hands – hands doing good, minds seeking truth, and hearts touching the beauty of mankind. NCEA President Dr. Tom Burnford reminded me that Rome defines humanism as being human and to be human is to be as Jesus was. I heard this theme again during Bishop Caggiano’s keynote address when he stated that we are set on the right path through encounters with Christ and these encounters are made possible through the transformative power of Catholic education. Here is how I see the connection: the Church document urges us to live out fraternal humanism especially in Catholic schools and if that is where we encounter Jesus who modeled for us how to be human then Catholic schools play a pivotal role in humanizing education. For me the challenge remains, what more can I do with my head, heart and hands to humanize education. It doesn’t get more Christian than that.
by Dr. Gail Donahue, Professor at Notre Dame University (Maryland)