Two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to attend the annual conference for the Principals Association of Catholic Secondary Schools of Victoria. The keynote speaker, presenting four workshops over two days was Dr Anna Rowlands, St Hilda Associate Professor of Catholic Social Thought and Practice, Lecturer in Contemporary Catholic Theology and Deputy Director the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University, England.
Dr Rowlands’ key theme for the conference was Catholic Social Teaching, which covers all spheres of life – the economic, political, personal and spiritual, with human dignity at its centre. While I understand this sounds very serious and philosophical at first glance, it is very easy to unpack and relate to our everyday responsibilities as staff and students in a Catholic school.
Catholic Social Teaching (CST) shapes and influences our work in the Catholic system, working along accepted principles such as Life and Dignity of the Human Person, Call to Family, Community and Participation, Rights and Responsibilities, Solidarity, Option for the Poor and Vulnerable and the Dignity of Work and Rights of Workers.
Dr Rowlands was terrific in her ability to interpret CST for contemporary use for school leaders, teachers, education support officers and indeed, students. CST really informs the story we tell ourselves about being human. Dr Rowlands’ key points included CST as:
- Social AND political by nature;
- Primarily relational;
- Virtue and capacity‐oriented: obligations and rights;
- Grounded in universal common good, expressed in communities of every scale;
- Constituted by the option for the poor – a pedagogy of the poor;
- Dignity: personal and communal dimensions.
It is gratifying to see so many of these intrinsic CST principles present and visible in our daily work at De La Salle College. They tie in very nicely with our Five Core Principles of a Lasallian Education and emphasise the social nature of our school, where respect, positive relationships and considering others are integral to what we do each day.
It is an important message to reiterate with all in our community – “Only the recognition of human dignity can make possible the common and personal growth of everyone.”
Together with equality in the recognition of the dignity of each person and of every people, there must also be an awareness that it will be possible to safeguard and promote human dignity only if this is done as a community.Dr Anna Rowlands
The critical test as to how well we, as a community, adhere to the principles of CST is how much we support the most socially and economically marginal. For our Malvern community that means we look after all in our school equally and ensure each young man and each staff member feels safe, known and supported. Beyond the school boundaries, it relates to supporting needy families or those temporarily experiencing tough times. Further afield, our social justice awareness and actions reach out to the underprivileged in so many Lasallian missions around Asia.
In closing, this commitment to Catholic Social Teaching can be summed up in Pope Francis’ four verbs on the subject:
- To welcome;
- To protect;
- To promote;
- To integrate.
When we commit as a school to these combined actions, we go a long way to protecting, supporting and developing all in our community — a Lasallian duty of justice, civility and solidarity.
Pope Francis released a statement recently to acknowledge the 300th anniversary of St John Baptist de La Salle’s death, urging the Lasallian Brothers and lay partners to continue their educational mission with the zeal of their founder.
Dear spiritual children of St John Baptist de La Salle, I urge you to deepen and imitate his passion for the least of these and the rejected.Pope Francis to the Brothers, May 16 2019
Mr Peter Houlihan