Family, Parish, School: When people don’t let God

What happens when we don’t let go and let God? I was listening to a group member express his concern that there are teachers of religious education in Catholic schools who do not believe what the Church teaches about some moral issues. He mentioned abortion in his contribution to the review that was being conducted. There are many involved in Catholic education who would agree with him, but for every teacher who would argue that they don’t have to believe what the Church teaches, they only have to teach it, there are many who live with God and share that life with their students. Yet, there still exists a problem in the Church of people who do not let God lead them. That is why we need apostles in our schools as much as we need them in other places of work. 

Cardijn reflected on the role of parents as the primary educators of their children and of the responsibility of teachers in schools to be places “where you learn to live and to love in line with the education that mothers and fathers are responsible for giving to their children.” He knew only too well that this was an expression of the ideal. Earlier in the talk on formation and education he gave as part of the 1950 Godinne lecture series on Person, Family and Education, he acknowledged that many parents had not been prepared well for their responsibilities as the first educators of their children. He also acknowledged the difficulties created by teachers who were not formed in the faith that parents sought to pass on to their children. Moreover, then as now, there are teachers in schools who reject the faith as being integral to a fully human life. 

Clearly, from a perspective of faith, those who work in Catholic schools are duty bound to support parents who want to bring up their children in the faith. And where that happens the trinity of family-parish-school is marked by peace and happiness. Children are able to mature in faith. St Luke provides us with an image of the childhood of Jesus, who grew up in the safety of this trinity of faith (Luke 2:40). 

Today, February 10, is the Feast of St Scholastica, the twin sister of St Benedict. The Gospel for today (Luke 10:38-42) is pertinent to this reflection. Luke takes us into the home of Martha and Mary. Martha is all action, the model for hospitality workers. Mary is criticised by her sister for not helping out with the meal preparation. Instead, she sits and listens to Jesus, who reminds Martha of the importance of prayerful reflection in a life dedicated to spreading the Good News. How does this apply to Catholic schools? In a research project I undertook in 2021, I learned from Catholic school staff I interviewed that they are “time poor,” meaning that some were too busy with their work to take time to reflect and pray. That might be true, but it is also true that they have lost focus. 

So, what has to change? How do we encourage those who work in our schools to focus on and share their faith so that more will come to experience and appreciate the presence of God in their lives and in their schools? A recent experience of a YCW meeting has shown me the importance of listening to people’s experiences of being taught in a Catholic school and of the need for teachers to listen to one another. Likewise, the stakeholders in Catholic education need to sit and listen with prayerful hearts and minds rather than simply sending out surveys to be completed and using the data to make decisions regarding the type of education to be delivered. 


Pat Branson


Person, Family and Education – the 1950 Godinne Lecture series given by Fr Joseph Cardijn: Lecture 3 – “Formation and education”

Making the love of God visible in Catholic schools 

“Our school’s mission? Well, to turn out well-rounded responsible citizens who will help to make the world a better place for others.” He was a teacher in a Catholic secondary school. He was also a participant in a study of the perceptions of school staff of their school’s mission. His view of his school’s mission did not differ substantially from the views of others who were interviewed. Their perceptions of the mission of a Catholic school focused entirely on the temporal work of the school. If they had ever thought of the divine destiny of everyone associated with their school, they did not allude to it. Clearly, it was not a priority. Yet, their dedication to the well-being of the young people in their care, their acceptance of the importance of celebrating Mass with their students, and their commitment to developing their students’ abilities to think for themselves and to be generous with their time and talents was both humbling and inspiring. 

Cardijn was not satisfied with the good that people did. He dedicated his whole life to educating young workers as leaders in the workplace. He focused on helping them deepen their understanding of the purpose of life as both a temporal and eternal reality. He spells out the relationship between the temporal and eternal destiny of each person in his teaching about the three truths: “The eternal destiny of each human being is incarnate, develops, and is achieved in temporal life always and everywhere – on earth as it is in heaven.” Surely such teaching would distinguish Catholic schools from those established by the State … if it is an integral part of the stated mission of the Catholic school. 

When I was about six years old, I was given a small catechism. I still remember learning that “God made me to know him, love him and serve him here on earth and to be happy with him forever in heaven.” The belief that the eternal is incarnated in the temporal is not part of the perception of the mission of the Catholic school shared with the interviewer in the research project. Yet it was clear to the interviewer that understanding of the purpose of education the staff members shared was more than the secular mission of a school. Theirs was focused on relationships, on modelling loving service of those in need, like the Good Samaritan, without making much of the analysis of why they did things and gave so much of themselves. 

Today is the feast of St Francis de Sales, a French bishop and doctor of the Church, who focused on the spiritual needs of lay people. The Gospel reading chosen to celebrate his feast day, has been taken from John’s Gospel (15:9-17). Jesus tells his disciples: “This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you.” He commissioned his followers to “go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” The staff members who were interviewed placed great store on meeting up with ex-students who reported on the value they placed in the care taken of them while they were at school and their hope that what they had achieved would reflect their gratitude. Surely in this there are the seeds of the incarnation of the eternal destiny of all people. 

Cardijn’s belief that the eternal is incarnated in the temporal destiny of every person was shared with YCW leaders in a lecture he gave about eleven years before I was born. It is a blessing that I was given the opportunity to embrace this belief as a child with a child’s understanding of the temporal and the eternal. Surely, this should be the same for everyone. And to make it a reality, those who lead in Catholic schools need to recognise the belief in their own lives and articulate the mission of their school in ways that acknowledge the belief. Then they will know that they have acted on Jesus’ command “to love one another.”


Pat Branson




The Three Truths (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Educating school leavers

Today is the feast day of St John Neumann (1811-1860), the Czech-born American Redemptorist who devoted much of his life to establishing parish schools. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, he was devoted to education and was “the first ecclesiastic to organise a diocesan school system in the United States.” Neumann was eventually canonised in 1977 as the first U.S. male saint.

Whereas Neumann was concerned with developing schools, Cardijn consecrated his life to the education of young workers who had left the school system.

Indeed, a pivotal moment in young Cardijn’s life came when he returned home after his first year in the minor seminary to discover that his former schoolmates now viewed him as an enemy and class traitor.

As he later wrote:

I was then thirteen and it was at that age that I made my first discovery of the problem of working youth. When I returned on holidays from the minor seminary, my little comrades from school and First Communion, who were more intelligent and more pious than me, were obliged to go to the factories and to work. I found them corrupted, opposed to the Church, no longer wanting anything to do with me.

It was a knife blow in my heart. I searched for the causes of this loss and corruption and promised to devote myself to saving them. I began my first enquiries in the factories and the neighbouring communes and I never ever abandoned them in Belgium and overseas for the rest of my life.

Yet, if Cardijn were alive today, what would he think today of the situation of young workers, particularly school leavers?


How many young people from your parish or local community have just completed their school education and started work or looking for work?

What challenges do they face in their new lives?

Is the Church accompanying these school leavers and young workers in facing these challenges?


What are those young workers’ experiences of the Church?

Is it similar to or different from the experience of school leavers in Cardijn’s time?

What outreach does your parish provide for those young workers?

Is there a YCW group in your area?

Or is there any other youth ministry program specifically trying to reach and assist young workers?


How could we assist those young workers starting their adult working lives?

Could we organise a school leavers event in our school? Or in our parish?


Stefan Gigacz worked for the Australian YCW in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney and later for the International YCW in Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America. He is currently secretary of the Australian Cardijn Institute.


St John Ne (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Joseph Cardijn, Background (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)


Antonio Gusmao, USAID (Pixnio)