What Makes Education Catholic: Spiritual Foundations

by Thomas H. Groome

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.


As we begin our school year, I think about Thomas Groome’s first book on this subject which I used for the course “Methods of Teaching Religion”. It was a splendid course as the students became aware of the many ways religion could be taught to others. They were splendidly empowered by the words in his text. I would say that this concept is true for those reading this text. More than ever before we need a vision and direction for others so that as they undertake the task of educating others, they do so with the joy and hope of who God is.


There was a time, not so long ago, when the identity and curriculum of Catholic schools seemed assured by the overwhelming presence of religious sisters, brothers, and priests as their teachers and administrators. In 1950 vowed religious made up 90% of Catholic grade schools and high schools, and laypeople were 10% in 2020this figure was reversed and more, with vowed religious making up less than 3 %of the faculty. Of course, laypeople are equally capable of conducting a system of Catholic education, but they need to know and be prepared to render what this asks of them.


Jesus’s values and perspectives, and especially his teaching praxis, what he did, said, and taught, are surely germane to education that claims Christian faith as its spiritual foundation. The most frequent description of Jesus and his work in the four Gospels is as teacher and teaching so described over one hundred times. So our hermeneutical interest will be that of educators, explicitly focusing on what Jesus taught, how he taught it, and toward what “learning outcomes” our key concern. Allowing for the differences between his and our historical contexts, Catholic educators are to teach in keeping with what and how Jesus is portrayed to have taught, having his curriculum inspire and shape our own. our key concern. Allowing for the differences between his and our historical contexts, Catholic educators are to teach in keeping with what and how Jesus is portrayed to have taught, having his curriculum inspire and shape our own.


Catholic education has been forged and enhanced by a long conversation with the traditions of Western philosophy and education that began with the early Christian encounter with Plato, Aristotle, and the Greco-Roman culture. From the beginning this encounter encouraged education marked by some crucial partnerships of faith and reasons, of revelation and science, of knowledge and wisdom, of academic rigor and formation un values, and so one. Such partnerships constitute the rich legacy of the Catholic intellectual tradition and can be a powerful resource for Catholic education today.


Chapters 3, 4, 5 and 6 draw upon the wisdom of some chief exponents of the Catholic intellectual tradition regarding education, such as Augustine, and Aquinas, Julian of Norwich and Angela Merci. Shaped by the original faith in Jesus Christ and by its encounter with the philosophical and sociocultural movements across the past two thousand years, especially in the West, the Catholic intellectual tradition offers a rich spiritual legacy for how to craft Catholic education in our time.


Chapters 7, 8, and 9 take up some central themes for Catholic education as informed by contemporary theology, highlighting the spiritual foundations it suggests. With a view to the whole curriculum of Catholic education, Chapter 7 reflects on an essentially positive understanding of the person as a relational being intent on the common good of all (anthropology cum sociology); Chapter 8focuses on epistemology of the engaged ways of knowing that it favors; Chapter 9 elaborates on the public nature of Christian faith and the responsibility of Catholic education to educate citizens who are committed to justice and the works of compassion in the public realm, consistent themes throughout the whole work. Chapter 10 offers reflections and a proposal to meet the particular challenge of religious education in Catholic schools with increasingly diverse faculty, staff, and students. The Postlude draws together wisdom and insights from all chapters to propose a Catholic pedagogy. Departing from the format of previous chapters, it summarizes their practical wisdom and insights as might be put to work in a spiritually grounded pedagogy, that is approach to teaching.