Academics and faith go together, says Catholic educator

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. -- Karen Ristau, president of the National Catholic Educational Association, believes that academics and faith go hand in hand.

“My big question is, how can we talk about Catholic identity and excellent academics in the same sentence, the same paragraph?” she asked in an Aug. 30 address to nearly 500 educators at the Grand Rapids diocese’s back-to-school kickoff at Catholic Central High School in Grand Rapids.

Ristau urged Catholic school personnel to remember that their schools promote “a Catholic way of life” and should “cultivate a sense of awe and gratitude, a desire for truth, an ability to continue learning about the world and the knowledge that we are especially loved by God.”

“We want young people to learn that this is how we do things, this is how we live,” she added.

Ristau told her listeners that Catholic education has changed since she and many others in the room attended Catholic schools and certainly since Catholic Central became the nation’s first private coeducational high school in 1906. Where religious once dominated the classrooms, she said, now 96 percent of teachers in Catholic schools are laypeople.

Today these teachers fall into three categories, she said: those who chose to teach in a Catholic school and consider their job a vocation; those who came to teach in a Catholic school because they needed a job but now love it and also consider it a vocation; and those who thought they wanted to teach, so have landed at a Catholic school but will be gone when a better job comes along, either in a public school or somewhere else.

She asked the educators to think about why they teach in a Catholic school, telling them that she believes “the answer is crucial to your personal sanity and morale.”

“Students and parents are not inspired by neutrality, by teachers and administrators sitting in neutral. They are looking for your excitement and passion,” she noted. But she also said excitement and compassion are not enough and that schools need to be vibrant and current to reach today’s students.

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