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)