Educational Challenges and Opportunities for Catholic Educationists (Keynote address by JEA Sec.)


 Catholic Education today: Challenges and Opportunities for catholic educationists


November 1, 2015

Sunny Jacob SJ


Jesuit Educational Association Secretary South Asia (JEASA)

225, Jor Bagh, New Delhi 110003, INDIA



Reverened Most Reverend Nuncio, Reverend Br. General, all the Provincials, province educational coordinators and distinguished educationists….

Indeed it is a joy for me to be here to share my thoughts with you all; in such an important meeting of an important congregation that spearheads a lot of innovative educational programme in 32 countries of the world. I am grateful to Br. Mani for organizing it here in such time where the whole world is thinking in terms of a new way of education. I am so impressed with the goals and objectives of the Conclave. Namely to create new bonding on the new entity, to ensure an internal structure for the new entity, to launch (Montfort Education) ME as a global partner in learning innovation and policy formulation at national and international level, to revitalize the 3 century old tradition in educational innovation of ME, to make ourselves relevant to the 21st century world by using innovative technology and refound ME in our times. These are extremely important and apt for us today.

The world is facing serious problems. There is division among peoples and countries. Terrorism sponsored by either state or non-state players everywhere thrives. Middle East and Africa are facing serious threat within and outside. Religious fundamentalism is on the rise. Irreligious or secular values seem to be more attractive to younger generations. Globalisation brought technological advancement and that seems to have dampened the spirit of unity and cooperation among people. Millions have been thrown out of their countries and are refugees in many places.    

In this context, as Catholic educationists, it is apt to note that this year is the 50th year of the Declaration two important documents of the Catholic Church, both talks about educational visions of the Church.  Gravissimum Educationis completes 50 years and 25th year of the Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Both were aimed at to give new stimulus to the Church’s involvement in the field of education. I am sure; both these documents can guide us in our proposed endeavour to achieve our set goals.

Let me mention here that there were two principal events that took place in the global church prior to your this conclave. The first was a seminar that took place in June 2012, with the participation of experts from all over the world. The second was the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation’s Members, which met in February 2014.

The indications that emerged in these two meetings are reflected in Instrumentum Laboris, “Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion”. The text recalls the essential reference-points of both the documents, the fundamental characteristics of Catholic schools and universities, going on to describe the challenges to which Catholic educational institutions are called to respond, with the development of their own specific mission. Briefly I will explain to you the basic points of these documents before I go to the status of the Catholic education globally today.

In the years following the Second Vatican Council, Papal Magisterium has repeatedly insisted on the importance of education in general, as well as on the contribution that the Christian community is called to offer education. The Congregation for Catholic Education has frequently addressed this theme in its documents. Therefore, the anniversaries of 2015 are a suitable and invaluable opportunity for us all to think seriously our role in the field of education within the Church. I think this conclave takes place at the right moment in the history of the Catholic education.

The Instrumentum Laboris has been translated into various languages, and is addressed to all the Bishops’ Conferences, to all the Superior Generals of Men and Women Religious Congregations. The text is also addressed to national and international associations of teachers, parents, students and former students, as well as associations of those who run schools and universities. The Instrumentum Laboris is also addressed to Christian communities, so that they may reflect on the importance of Catholic education in the context of the New Evangelization.

When we look at the world we see contemporary culture is affected by several problems that are causing a widespread “educational emergency”: this expression refers to the difficulty in establishing educational relations which should convey vital values and principles to younger generations, not only to help individual growth and maturation, but also to contribute to building the common good in the society.

Catholic education, with its thousands of schools and universities that are scattered all over the world, provides a remarkable support to ecclesial communities and contributes to the fostering of anthropological and ethical values in individual consciences and cultures, which are necessary in order to build a society that, is based on harmony and solidarity.

This Instrumentum Laboris is aimed at providing guidance to and provides inspiration for future educational projects and activities for all of us.

1. The Declaration Gravissimum Educationis

The purpose of Gravissimum Educationis was to draw the attention of all baptized to the importance of education by providing basic guidelines on educational issues. Among the many connections that the Declaration has with other Council documents, perhaps the most significant ones refer to the two main Constitutions, Lumen Gentium (which was promulgated on November 21, 1964) and Gaudium et Spes (December 7, 1965). Gravissimun Educationis often refers to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium; whereas the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the contemporary world Gaudium et Spes, mentions Gravissimum Educationis in Part II, Chapter II (dedicated to The Promotion of Progress and Culture). The document in a way addresses both the secular and theological-spiritual dimensions.

a) Historical and Social Context. The Role of Christians

Since the Council, the historical and social context has changed remarkably, both in terms of world vision, as well as ethical and political concepts. The 1960s were a time of confident expectations, following the Council’s announcement and the possibility of more peaceful relations between States. Compared to that time, the scenario has deeply changed today. There is a move towards secularization all over. The increasingly faster globalization process seems to limit individual freedom and exacerbate conflicts between different ways of looking at personal and collective life. From liberal welfare state (Socialism) to triumphant liberalism (Capitalism) with its dreadful impact on schools and education is the order of the day.

However, I think, all the changes that have taken place since the 1960s have not weakened the teachings of the Church, but have actually enhanced their prophetic scope. We need to look at the following points seriously

  1. Stating the Church’s willingness to work for a humane society and personal development of individuals.
  2. Recognizing education as a ‘common good’.
  3. Claiming the universal right to education and schooling for all, as declared by international organizations such as UNESCO (Education for All).
  4. Implicitly supporting all individuals and international institutions who oppose rampant liberalism through their fight for the right to education (RTE).
  5. Asserting that culture and education cannot be subservient to economic power and its workings.
  6. Recalling everybody’s duty – whether communities or individuals – to support women’s participation in cultural life.
  7. Outlining a cultural context of “new humanism” (GS, n. 55), that the present Pope is advocating.

b) Theological and Spiritual Vision

Christian/Catholic education must focus on spiritual and theological formation and their conscience. We must remember that:

  1. Christian education as a work of evangelization/mission (Lumen Gentium, n. 17).
  2. The emphasis on the necessarily sacramental character of education for Christians (Lumen Gentium, n. 11).
  3. The need for Christian education to grow at the same time as human education for all.
  4. The urging to envisage Christian education within the context of faith of a poor Church for the poor (Lumen Gentium, n. 8), in line with one of the pivotal points of the Pope Francis’ (Church’s) current message.

2. The need for Research and Innovation

I think, there is a call for us all to look at our institutions and their excellence. Very often we see we live in the past glory, and contributing as mediocre. Many of our institutions today are on the maintenance mode than genuinely contributing academic research. It is worth noticing that the essential purpose of Catholic education was to allow students to fully take on the cultural, social and religious responsibilities that would be required of them. For these reason Catholic universities and educational institutions had to strive to promote real academic research at all levels.

Our educational institutions are a privileged instrument to gain access to the truth regarding nature, man and God in order to favor an open dialogue between the Church and men and women of diverse cultures. Therefore we need to;

a) Be inspired by Christian values not only in so far as individuals are concerned, but also the entire community as such;

b) Promote constant reflection on the processes and achievements of study and knowledge, in the light of Catholic faith.

c)  Be faithful to the Christian message, as it is presented by the Church;

d)  Serve the people of God and mankind in the efforts they undertake to access truth.

II. What our Universities and Schools should be?

In the light of all our reflections and the emerging challenges of contemporary society, what should Catholic schools and universities be like? This is the point we need to concentrate in our deliberations here in the few days you are together.

Schools and universities are places where people learn how to live their lives, achieve cultural growth, receive vocational training and engage in the pursuit of the common good; they provide the occasion and opportunity to understand the present time and imagine the future of society and mankind. At the root of Catholic education is our Christian spiritual heritage, which is part of a constant dialogue with the cultural heritage and the conquests of science; Catholic schools and universities are educational communities where learning thrives on the integration between research, thinking and life experience.

1. Building an Educational Context

Catholic schools and universities educate people through the living context, i.e. the climate that both students and teachers establish in the environment where teaching and learning activities take place. This climate is pervaded not only by the values that are being expressed in universities, but also by the values that are lived out, by the quality of interpersonal relations between teachers and students and students amongst each other, by the care teachers devote to student and local community needs, by the clear living testimony provided by teachers and educational institutions’ entire staff. All our stake holders are part of our schools and colleges.

Although cultural contexts vary, as well as educational possibilities and influences, still there are distinguishing features of a Catholic educational Institution:

  1. Respect and love for individual dignity and uniqueness.  (Cura personalis)
  2. A wealth of opportunities that are offered to young people for them to grow and develop their abilities and talents; a balanced focus on cognitive, affective, social, professional, ethical and spiritual aspects;
  3. encouragement for every pupil to develop their talents, in a climate of cooperation and solidarity;
  4. The promotion of research as a rigorous commitment towards truth, being aware that human knowledge has its limits, but also with a great openness of mind and heart;
  5. Respect of ideas, openness to dialogue, the ability to interact and work together in a spirit of freedom and care, especially in a pluralistic society like India.

2. Introducing Students to do Research

Schools and universities are places where students are introduced to knowledge and scientific research. Today all the more it is a must, where, religious fundamentalism and ethnic chauvinism is growing on the one hand and on the other organized violence and false ritualistic faith blinds the people all over the world. Here, our educational institutions have the responsibilities to attract younger generations towards knowledge and understanding its achievements and applications. 

3. Teaching as an Instrument for Education

Nowadays, the “way” in which students learn seems to be more important than “what” they learn, just like the way of teaching seems to be more important than its contents. Teaching that only promotes repetitive learning (memorization as it is in India today), without favoring students’ active participation or igniting their curiosity, is not sufficiently challenging to elicit motivation. However, the value of learning contents must not be underestimated. If the way students learn is relevant, the same applies to what they learn: teachers must know how to select the essential elements of cultural heritage that has accumulated over time and how to present them to students. Learning takes place in a loving and mutually respected atmosphere than any other atmosphere any where.

4. Learner centered education

In our schools and universities, learning allows our students to develop their creativity, strive for constant learning and become more open towards others. Learning can also provide the opportunity to open students’ hearts and minds to the mystery and wonder of the world and nature, to self-consciousness and awareness, to responsibility towards creation, to the Creator’s immensity (Jesuit Educational vision).

Our school education will not be complete if it does not serve the local community. We must instruct our teachers to provide their students with opportunities to realize the social impact of what they are studying as well as the development of a sense of responsibility and active citizenship for the nation and the world.

5. The Diversity of Learners

As Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam says, “the quality of our educational Institutions is entirely depending on the quality and understanding of their teachers”. In our institutions teachers are called upon to rise up to a major educational challenge, which are the recognition, respect and enhancement of diversity. Psychological, social, cultural and religious diversity should not be denied, but rather considered as an opportunity and a gift. Teachers must be open and professionally knowledgeable when they are leading classes where diversity is recognized, accepted and appreciated as an educational asset that is beneficial to everyone (needed in India with urgency). Those who find are poor, more fragile or needy, should not be seen as a burden or obstacle, but as the most important students, who should be at the center of schools’ attention and concerns (Option for the poor).

6. Pluralism of Educational Establishments

Catholic schools and universities fulfill their task in very different cultural and social contexts.  Their work is sometimes recognized and appreciated and, at other times, faced by serious difficulties and hostility. Even in the midst of these the basic reasons for their educational work do not change. School communities that are inspired by the values of Catholic faith engage in dialogue with all. We in our schools and universities must be able to think globally and act locally. It is really important for Catholic educational establishments to interact with other non-Catholic institutions in the countries where they are located for the common good.

7.  Significance of Training our personnel

The importance of schools’ and universities’ educational tasks explains how crucial training is for teachers, managers and the entire staff that has educational responsibilities. Professional competence is the necessary condition for better contribution.

  1. They should have the ability to create, invent and manage learning environments that provide plentiful opportunities;
  2. They should be able to respect students’ multiple intelligences and guide them towards significant and profound learning;
  3. They should be able to accompany their students towards lofty and challenging goals.
  4. All our teachers must be mentors too to our students.

To fulfill such expectations these tasks should be provided at institutional level, with competent leaders of the Church like the CBCI, or other conferences and Provincial level leaders of congregations showing the way. Here comes the significance of this conclave for Montfort Congregation.


At the heart of Catholic education there is always Jesus Christ: everything that happens in Catholic schools and universities should lead to an encounter with the living Christ. If we look at the great educational challenges, we must look at Jesus, the great Teacher.

  1. We are witnessing an increased hostility towards Church and its educational activities by a section of political and religious organizations ( in India and elsewhere).
  2. Increased Mob attacks and hooliganism against reputed institutions are the order of the day in many states.
  3. We witness a remarkable differentiation, privatization and even expropriation of knowledge by newly mushroomed corporate ‘educationists’ on the one hand and on the other we see reactionary fundamentalist organization entering into educational arena with the tacit support of the ruling governments.
  4. We face the challenge to make young people realize the beauty of faith in Jesus Christ and of religious freedom in a multireligious context.
  5. We face another serious challenge of being catholic educators of credible witnesses.

The young people we are educating today will become the leaders after a decade or two. What will religion’s contribution be to educating younger generations to peace, development, fraternity in the universal human community? How are we going to educate them to faith and in faith? How will we establish the preliminary conditions to accept this gift, to educate them to gratitude, to a sense of awe, to asking themselves questions, to develop a sense of justice and consistency? How will we educate them to prayer?

Education is not just knowledge, but also experience: it links together knowledge and action; it works to achieve unity amongst different forms of knowledge and pursues consistency. It encompasses the affective and emotional domains, and is also endowed with an ethical dimension: knowing how to do things and what we want to do, daring to change society and the world, and serving the community. (IPP)

Education is based on participation, shared intelligence and intelligence interdependence; dialogue, self-giving, example, cooperation and reciprocity are also equally important elements.

1. Challenges for Catholic Schools

Nowadays education is going through rapid changes. The generation to which it is addressed is changing quickly as well, therefore each educator must constantly face a situation which, as Pope Francis put it, “provides us with new challenges which sometimes are difficult for us to understand.”

a) The Challenge of Identity

The redefinition of Catholic schools’ identity for the 21st century is an urgent task (So also Montfort schools, Jesuit schools etc).

Spiritual poverty and declining cultural levels are starting to produce their dismal effects on Catholic schools.

As Pedro Arrupe urged the Jesuits must have “Jesuitness” in our education. Similar things can be said about Montfort schools.

Many Catholic school students belong to a multiplicity of cultures, therefore our institutions must proclaim the Gospel beyond believers, not only with words, but through the power of our exemplary lives in accordance with the Gospel.

b) The Challenge for School Communities

If we think about our societies’ rampant individualism, we realize how important it is for Catholic schools to be true living communities that are animated by the Holy Spirit. The friendly hospitality in the schools by all is so important for us.

In order for this to happen, a particular attention must be devoted to the formation and selection of school heads. This is an urgent consideration for religious congregations, at least for us Jesuits today.

Another challenging terrain for Catholic schools is relations with families, many of which are going through a deep crisis and need support, solidarity, involvement and even formation.

Teachers, parents and school heads – together with students – make up a broad educational community that is called upon to work together with Church institutions.

c) The Challenge of Dialogue

We believe in dialogue of life with all at all circumstances.

d) The Challenge of a Learning Society  

We should know that learning takes place inclusively within schools: in the current context, modern technology, social media and internet etc. too educate pupils. Have not the schools lost their traditional educational primacy? IT and ICT, social net works and make schools no longer the only learning environment for young people, and not even the most important one. Virtual communities are acquiring a remarkable importance and so schooling must face a new challenge: building a critical thinking.

e) The Challenge of Limited Means and Resources

Schools that are not aided by States are facing increasing financial difficulties to provide their services to the poorest students especially at a time of dire economic crisis all over the world.  (Fe ye Alegria, Cristo Rey models have been a response to these).

f) Pastoral Challenges

A growing number of young people are drifting away from the institutional Church. Religious ignorance or illiteracy is rising. Catholic education is an unglamorous mission. How can students be educated to exercise their freedom of conscience and take a stance in the immense domain of values and beliefs in a globalized society?

g) Specific Challenges for Mult-ireligious and Multi-cultural Societies  

The multiculturalism and multireligiosity of Catholic school students are a challenge for all people who have educational responsibilities. If our school’s catholic identity is weakened by a number of reasons, several problems arise. The answer to these cannot be to seek shelter in indifference, nor to adopt a kind of Christian fundamentalism, but to have a genuine introspection and get rooted in our charism.

Hence, one of the most important challenges will be to foster a greater cultural openness amongst all over stake holders, especially teachers, and they are expected to be role-models.

h) The Challenge of Teachers’ Lifelong Training

We believe, pre-service is important and in-service training is more important for our teachers in our schools.

i) Places and Resources for Teacher Training

Who can ensure this kind of training? Can specific places be dedicated to this task and be identified? Where can these kinds of trainers are found for teachers?

Here are some possible suggestions:

  • National structures and their offices.
  • Diocesan structures: diocesan directors of education
  • Religious congregations. (I can explain the Jesuit Educational Structure)
  • Catholic universities or institutes.
  • Parishes/ deaneries as centers for retreats or spiritual support for educators.
  • Networking, e-learning.

l) Legal Challenges

Some governments are quite keen on marginalizing Catholic schools through a number of rules and laws that, sometimes, trample over Catholic schools’ pedagogical freedom (As in South Asia). In some cases, governments hide their animosity by using lack of resources as an excuse. In these situations, the existence of Catholic schools is not so easy.


Nowadays, a lot of attention has been devoted to verifying the outcome of students’ learning activities. For Jesuits the learning outcome is identified in five Cs. Our education must make our students Persons of Conscience, Competence, Compassion, Commitment, and Character.  Each person’s formation takes place within a process that is implemented over many years by several educators, starting with parents. Within a framework of educational cooperation, teaching is not only a process through which knowledge or training are provided, but also guidance for everyone to discover their talents, develop professional skills and take important intellectual, social and political responsibilities in local communities. Even more than this, teaching means to accompany young people in their search for truth and beauty, for what is right and good. The effectiveness of collective action, involving both teaching and administrative staff, is given by shared values and the fact of being learning community, in addition to teaching.

Future challenges for Catholic schools and universities are immense. However, Pope Francis’ words encourage us to renew our passion to educate younger generations: “Do not be disheartened in the face of the difficulties that the educational challenge presents! Educating is not a profession but an attitude, a way of being; in order to educate it is necessary to step out of ourselves and be among young people, to accompany them in the stages of their growth and to set ourselves beside them. Give them hope and optimism for their journey in the world. Teach them to see the beauty and goodness of creation and of man who always retains the Creator’s hallmark. But above all with your life be witnesses of what you communicate. Educators pass on knowledge and values with their words; but their words will have an incisive effect on children and young people if they are accompanied by their witness, their consistent way of life. Without consistency it is impossible to educate! You are all educators, there are no delegates in this field. Thus collaboration in a spirit of unity and community among the various educators is essential and must be fostered and encouraged. School can and must be a catalyst, it must be a place of encounter and convergence of the entire educating community, with the sole objective of training and helping to develop mature people who are simple, competent and honest, who know how to love with fidelity, who can live life as a response to God’s call, and their future profession as a service to society” 
















The following questionnaire serves as a basis for reflection and suggestions.

1. Identity and Mission

- In your country, how are Catholic schools and universities consistent with their nature and aims?

- What elements principally characterize the service that Catholic schools and universities offer students and their families?

- What place is there for the teaching of the Catholic values in your schools?

- Do Catholic schools and universities promote interreligious and intercultural dialogue?

2. Subjects

- Is there provision for accompaniment in the faith for teachers, students and the families of students?

- Are students encouraged to participate in the life of the educational institution?

- Are families encouraged to participate?

- Is there care for students from an economically disadvantaged background?

- Is there care for students who have learning difficulties or are physically disadvantaged?

- Are activities promoted for former students? (How strong are your Alumni Organisations?)

- How have Montfort charism for education “updated” their presence in Montfort schools and Colleges? What difficulties have you faced and what beneficial results have they achieved?

3. Formation

- How does one recruit personnel, particular teachers and administrators?

- How does one organize and guarantee the ongoing formation, both professional and Christian, of administrators, teachers and non-teaching staff?

- Is there care to faith formation  also for parents?

- Is there care for cooperation/ net work at various levels, among the various Catholic schools and colleges?

4. Challenges and Outlook

- What are the best experiences of Catholic schools and colleges,(universities) in your country?

- What, on the other hand, are the greatest weaknesses?

- What strategies and activities have already been prepared or are being sketched out for the future? 












  • Jesuit Educational Structures at International, National and Local levels and vision and new strategies will be explained in the interactive session after the presentation.




Sunny Jacob SJ, Secretary, Jesuit Educational Association of South Asia (JEA SA), 225, Jor Bagh, New Delhi 110 003, INDIA; Phones: Office: +91 011 24633277, +91 011 24694713, FAX: +91 011- 24642862, Mobile: +91 9643907591,  +91 9650814854, Emails” ;, Website: