Catholic education exists to open the eyes of students to the sacredness of the physical world, according to Joseph O’Keefe, S.J.
“It does so in theology and catechesis and worship—in those explicitly religious dimensions of the schools with which we are involved,” he said on May 18 at the 16th annual Catholic School Executive Leadership Dinner at Fordham. The event, staged each spring by the Graduate School of Education, honors top Catholic school educators.
In his keynote speech on the Lincoln Center campus, Father O’Keefe extolled four aspects of the vocation of the priest that he said are central to the work of Catholic education. They include:
• helping to identify the sacred;
• helping people to discern;
• bringing people together; and
• helping people face death and new life.
He said the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., helped him see the holiness of education, the godliness of scholarship and the sacredness that is found throughout the physical world.
“Catholic schools teach us that holiness is to be found in the awesome complexity of the natural world, in the poetic word, with its power to transform, in the triumphs and tragedies of human history,” said Father O’Keefe, dean of the Lynch School of Education at Boston College.
“Catholic schools teach us that holiness can be found in beauty of mathematical logic, in the cadence of a song, by peering into the microscope along with peering into the missal,” he said.
Others who received the annual Catholic School Executives Award included:
• Father Michael Farano, vicar general of the Diocese of Albany;
• Monsignor John Graham, pastor of the Church of Saint Raymond in the Bronx;
• Monsignor Thomas Healy, pastor Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Corona, Queens; and
• Monsignor Brian McNamara, director of priest personnel in the Diocese of Rockville.
|Joseph M. McShane, S.J., Monsignor John Graham and Timothy Mc Niff, Ph.D., superintendent of schools, Archdiocese of New York
Photo By Bruce Gilbert
Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, thanked those in attendance and noted how proud he is that nearly half of Fordham’s undergraduates come from Catholic schools. Although he and his brothers went to different high schools and colleges, Father McShane said they all went to the same grammar school and that they still marvel at how extraordinary the nuns were who ran the school.
“We did not have a pedagogy of terror; we had a pedagogy of great love,” Father McShane said. “But make no mistake about it—we were never insulted with low expectations. We were given the great compliment of having high expectations presented to us, always within an environment that was extraordinarily loving and supportive.”
“This is the magic of Catholic education, where you never insult someone with low expectations, but empower them with love,” he said.
Father McShane also praised the honorees for performing, through their work, an act of faith.
“Almost every kid who goes to a Catholic grammar school or high school or college will go through a period of functional atheism,” he said. “But you have to believe that what you do for them convinces them at a most important and intimate level that—at a formative time in their lives—the church loved them and cared for them. That will always remain with them.
“So at moments of stress and moments of crisis, they’ll come back. They’ll come back on their own terms, but they will come back because they know that the church loves and that, for them, that means that God loves. Do not forget that.”