November 1999 Print

Catholic Education, Pt. 10

Catholic Education

Part 10

Rev. Fr. Alain Delagneau


We have reached the conclusion of our series on Catholic education. In this final installment, we address the issue of parents' obligation to ensure the Catholic schooling of their children. [This discussion is of broad interest. We are aware, however, that sending children to a traditional Catholic school is a difficult if not impossible directive for some families for various reasons. At the same time, alternatives are uneasy and often intolerable when considered from a traditional Catholic viewpoint. In any case, whatever decisions are made by the head of the household, the counsel of a traditional Catholic priest on the matter is to be considered mandatory.—Ed.]

"Parents are bound by a most serious obligation to provide to the best of their power for the religious and moral as well as for the physical and civil education of their children, and also to provide for their temporal welfare" (1917 Code of Canon Law, Can. 1113). The Church imposes on Catholic parents, anxious to fulfil entirely the mission God has entrusted to them by giving them children, the strict duty of sending them to Catholic schools. Pope St. Pius X described what these schools must be, that is, the complement and completion of the Catholic education imparted in the home:

For a school to be Christian, it is not enough to give a weekly religious education lesson or to schedule certain pious observances. The first necessity is for Christian teachers to communicate to their pupils the richness of their profound spiritual lives as well as forming their minds and their characters. For this reason it is important that the practical organization of the school, its discipline and its syllabus should constitute a framework adapted to its essential function and should be imbued with an authentic spiritual sense, even in the apparently most trivial and material details. [Translation from original French edition of Fr. Delagneau's L'Education Chrétienne, but source of text is unreferenced in original and not located among authorized English translations of Pope Pius X's works.—Ed.]

The Teaching of the Church

On this topic one must refer to the masterly encyclical Divini Illius Magistri (December 29, 1929) on the education of the redeemed issued by Pope Pius XI. Pope Pius XII praised this comprehensive encyclical on its 25th anniversary:

The inviolable principles which this document lays down regarding the Church, family and State in the matter of education, are based on the very nature of things and on revealed truth. They cannot be shaken by the ebb and flow of events. As for the fundamental rules which it prescribes, these too are not subject to the wear and tear of time, since they are only the faithful echo of the Divine Master, whose words shall not pass away (cf. Mt. 24:30). The encyclical is a real Magna Carta of Christian education, "outside which no education is complete and perfect" (Divini Illius Magistri, cf. §243). It lends itself to study, today as it did in the past, by all those who, in a spirit of loyalty, desire to know, in this matter, the genuine and firm thought of the Church, "to whom belongs, in a very special manner, the mission of education" (Ibid. §246). In times of difficulty, it provides, with its clarity of doctrine, a certain guide for the courageous efforts of Catholic parents and teachers who are desirous of assuring youth of a formation fully in conformity with the requirements of the faith. (Letter Pour commemorer, to the Cardinal Archbishop of Malines, August 24, 1955, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary celebration of Divini Illius Magistri by the National Congress of Belgium)

Pope John XXIII spoke in a similar way on December 30, 1959:

In truth, an admirable document of the Magisterium of the Church....With what firmness of principle, with what lucidity of presentation, does the great Pontiff [Pope Pius XI in Divini Illius Magistri—Ed.] assign the respective roles of the family, the Church and the State in the great work of education, namely that of the child. What solid arguments are given to show how justified the Church is in requiring an educational milieu in harmony with her children's Faith! We declare without hesitation that this capital document has lost nothing of its truth. Today, as in the past, the Church firmly declares that her rights and those of the family are anterior to those of the State. Today, as in the past, the Church affirms her own right to have schools where a Christian conception of life is inculcated by teachers of solid convictions, and where the entire teaching program is given in the light of the Faith. [Source of translated text unreferenced in French original and not located among authorized English translations.—Ed.]

These enthusiastic endorsements are a pressing invitation to read this excellent encyclical by Pope Pius XI. We will give a few select extracts under its various subtitles. In the first order, the Pope discusses the grave question of how it is important that everyone know their duties regarding the Catholic education of children and on what basis these duties are founded:

Those who must educate (§245)

Education is essentially a social and not merely an individual activity. Now there are three essential societies, distinct one from the other and yet harmoniously combined by God, into which man is born: two of these, namely the family and civil society, belong to the natural order; the third, the Church, to the supernatural order. In the first place comes the family, instituted directly by God for its particular purpose, the procreation and the formation of offspring; for this reason it has priority of nature, and therefore of rights, over civil society. Nevertheless, the family is an imperfect society, since it does not in itself possess all the means for its own complete development; whereas civil society is a perfect society, having in itself all the means for its own special end, which is the temporal well-being of the community; and so, in this respect, that is, in view of the common good, it has the pre-eminence over the family, which finds its own suitable temporal perfection precisely in civil society.

The third society, into which man is born when through Baptism he reaches the divine life of grace, is the Church: a society of the supernatural and universal order; a perfect society, because it has in itself all that is required for its own purpose, which is the eternal salvation of mankind; hence it is supreme in its own domain.

Consequently education which is concerned with man as a whole, individually and socially, in the order of nature and in the order of grace, necessarily belongs to all these three societies, in due proportion, corresponding, according to the dispositions of Divine Providence, to the coordination of their respective ends....

The family (§257)

In the first place the Church's mission of education is in wonderful agreement with that of the family, for both proceed from God, and in a remarkably similar manner God directly communicates to the family, in the natural order, fecundity, which is the principle of life, and hence also the principle of education for life, together with authority, the principle of order.

It is fitting to insert here among the excerpts from Divini Illius Magistri this one from Sapientiae Christianae of Pope Leo XIII (January 10, 1890):

[Parents] hold from nature their right of training the children to whom they have given birth, with the obligation super-added of shaping and directing the education of their little ones to the end for which God vouchsafed the privilege of transmitting the gift of life. It is, then, incumbent on parents to strain every nerve to ward off such an outrage [i.e., the desire of some working for the State "to corrupt family life, and to destroy it utterly, root and branch"—Ed.], and to strive manfully to have and to hold exclusive authority to direct the education of their offspring, as is fitting, in a Christian manner, and first and foremost to keep them away from schools where there is risk of their drinking in the poison of impiety. Where the right education of youth is concerned, no amount of trouble or labor can be undertaken, how great soever, but that even greater still may not be called for. In this regard, indeed, there are to be found in many countries Catholics worthy of general admiration, who incur considerable outlay and bestow much zeal in founding schools for the education of youth. It is highly desirable that such noble example may be generously followed, where time and circumstances demand, yet all should be intimately persuaded that the minds of children are most influenced by the training they receive at home. If in these early years they find within the walls of their homes the rule of an upright life and the discipline of Christian virtue, the future welfare of society will in great measure be guaranteed. (Sapientiae Christianae, §42)

Let us continue with more selections from Pope Pius XI's Divini Illius Magistri under these subtitles:

The titles of the Church (§246)

The first title is founded upon the express mission and supreme authority to teach, given her by her divine Founder: "All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you"....

The Church therefore has the duty to watch over the teaching of  her children, to keep them in the path of holiness and salvation.

Protecting the family and the individual (§266)

Consequently, in the matter of education, it is the right, or to speak more correctly, it is the duty of the State to protect by means of its legislation, the prior rights, already described, of the family as regards the Christian education of its offspring, and consequently also to respect the supernatural rights of the Church in this same realm of Christian education....

Promoting education and instruction (§267)

In the first place it pertains to the State, in favor of the common good, to promote in various ways the education and instruction of youth. It should begin by encouraging and assisting, of its own accord, the initiative and activity of the Church and the family, whose successes in this field have been clearly demonstrated by history and experience.

The Revolution Deals with Children

Most clearly over the last 200 years, the State has wanted to take the place of the family and the Catholic Church. It knows that it is vital for it to remove the child as early as possible from the wholesome influence of an education guided by Catholic doctrine.

The formation [better said, malformation—Ed.] today in government schools of the intellect, will, and the memory is catastrophic. Children are no longer given the true foundations which will help them to stand on their own later, to have sound judgment and to love truth, to give them a sense of reality and of honest effort. The woeful lack of knowledge and weakness of vocabulary among children destroys the accuracy of genuine thought. Their minds become dependent upon the thoughts of others (while they themselves believe they are doing the thinking!) and most of what their minds might engage in is superficial and silly.

Public education sins by omission and commission. It has simply chosen to ignore education on select areas of study, especially history and literature. Sex education programs teach everything but responsibility and accountability before God, promoting instead a false philosophy which has caused so many young people to lose the Faith. In actual fact a program of corruption is coming to fruition under our very eyes as we see our youngsters animalized, brutalized, and corrupted.

To this must be added the mixing of the sexes in coeducation schools which distorts relations between young people. There are fewer and fewer virile young men capable of facing obstacles, of leading and protecting a family. This is a direct consequence of mixed-sex education. Their ability to learn true love and to give themselves sacrificially to their family is weakened by selfish flirtation.

The influence the youngsters in a public school have on each other is dangerous. In practice most come from atheistic backgrounds and are liberal in their moral views. In this area, they are more or less neglected by their parents. Unfortunately, the appeal of vice is greater than the appeal of virtue. Powerful peer pressure and mockery is brought to bear on those who wish to be upright and virtuous. A worsening aspect is the prevalent naturalism or atheism. Peers live, act, and speak as if God did not exist. And while this happens more and more positively, sending your child to a public school is guaranteed to make him indifferent to the existence of God. Revolutionary Masonic principles are the principles of government teaching programs. St. Cyprian says, "The insidious poisoning of the mind is worse than persecution." The seriousness of the situation lies in the fact that many Catholic parents no longer have a Catholic mentality regarding education, but a secular mentality imbued with the humanistic principles of the French Revolution (1789).

Choice of a Traditional Catholic School

Sadly, even the so-called Catholic schools of the conciliar Church do not escape this destructive program. How many parents have had this experience! They put their trust in these schools and realized too late that their children were not receiving the same education that they and their parents received. In the meantime, their children came to disrespect all authority and to lose Catholic values. All Catholic parents therefore who are conscious of their grave responsibility and are clear-minded regarding the threats of the present situation must choose Catholic schools worthy of the name for the education of their children. Pope Pius IX said:

Parents are strictly obliged in conscience, even at the cost of great sacrifice, to entrust their children to a Catholic school if there is one and if it is suitably organized. [Source of text unreferenced in French original and not located among authorized English translations.—Ed.]

This choice is necessarily from the primary school onwards, and even from the kindergarten school, where possible; but it becomes vital for the secondary school, which covers the difficult adolescent period.

Objection: Can't the defects of the public school be corrected and compensated for in the home?

Response: Be careful! This is a dream. Parents do not honestly make the time nor have the training (especially as children reach the more challenging upper grades) for such a task. It is an illusion to believe that any child can live in constant contradiction to the teaching and environment of a public school which will always win the majority of his time. Some hopeful parents commit many hours of effort to parent-watchdog groups like parent-teacher associations, etc., monitoring curricula and activities to control the obvious damage. But this effort only sees small victories of an accidental nature because the essential principles of public education are anti-Catholic.

Objection: Isn't there a risk of over-protecting our children and seeing them fall when they go out into the world?

Response: No, but this depends on how the parents and the Catholic school have communicated to the children the Faith, a militancy against the spirit of the world, and the positive Christian ideal. The situation is not solely one of grade achievement; if the children themselves have acquired solid virtues, the power of critical reasoning, and enlightened judgment, they will be sufficiently armed against this. Some parents often hide their own pride and human respect behind this false objection.

Objection: Sending children to traditional Catholic boarding schools separates them from their families. Doesn't this destroy family unity?

Response: No. At the heart of it all, unity of the family depends on a shared union of minds on essential values which the school develops in the child on top of what has been begun in the family. The important family relationships can be sustained through the mail, during holidays and weekends at home, etc. Are we too sentimental—or what is often selfishness—to be able to take a tough recipe for the family's good? It stands to reason that many a (good) school will do a child more good than a "loving" family. But there are sacrifices involved. "No sweat, no sweet."

Objection: Couldn't we send our children to a decent public school and take care of the religious instruction at home?

Response: No, just as the Catholic life is not merely the regular repeating of certain prayers but rather living up to Catholic morals and doctrines in word and in act, so too Catholic education requires a Catholic view of things in every domain and not just in religion. True education is not disconnected or unrelated. This is to pigeonhole life. There is no logical synthesis. All education's parts must equal a whole—a Catholic mental universe. No public school can do this because the nation's Constitution and legal machine won't let it.

Objection: But tuition is pretty expensive.

Response: Yes, educating children demands sacrifices. What's new? Someone made sacrifices for you, didn't they? If children are the fruit of love and love is sacrifice, then children are a sacrifice. Isn't it better to go without for a few years than to live in the anguish of seeing your children get separated from God and Catholic moral values, confused and screwed-up? If you're in desperate need, let someone know. This gives them a chance to practice some valuable charity. How many grandparents are embarrassed by their children and grandchildren and have difficulties justifying financial help to them? Perhaps your children are an attractive alternative investment. If old enough to do so, make your children earn some of their own tuition by summer odd jobs, etc. If they've got time for excessive game-playing activities and unproductive "hang-out" time, you better believe they've got time to work and make some cash. (Since they're part of paying for it, this will also make them take their education more seriously.) If personal contacts fail and need is obvious and deserving, financial aid from chapels can be made available as a last resort. Appreciation, however, must be manifested by the diligent academic performance and behavior of the beneficiaries.


This concludes The Angelus series, "Catholic Education." The Angelus would be interested to know if its readers have appreciated this series enough to justify its publishing it in book form. If you would like to see this enough to buy the book when it's printed, please let Angelus Press know so it can decide to do so.

Fr. Alain Delagneau was ordained a priest of the Society of Saint Pius X in 1980 and is the head retreatmaster at the retreat house, Our Lady of Pointet in Escurolles, in central France. This article originally appeared in the French publication Marchons Droit, No. 44, 1988. It was translated by Fr. Gerard Ockerse, a priest of the Society of Saint Pius X, ordained in 1994, who is stationed at St. Joseph's Priory in Harare, Zimbabwe (Africa). This installment was heavily edited and adapted by Rev. Fr. Kenneth Novak.