The Catholic school as a place of dialogue

The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education published The Catholic School (CS) in 1977. The Congregation stated that it “is aware of the serious problems which are an integral part of Christian education in a pluralist society” (CS 2). In its consideration of the place of the Catholic school in world, the Congregation stated that through the school, the Church “participates in the dialogue of culture with her own positive contribution in the cause of the total formation of people” (CS 15). The Congregation used the term “dialogue” just twice in the document. By 2022, the emphasis on dialogue had increased dramatically with its publication of The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue (ICSCD), in which the word “dialogue” appears 44 times in just 18 pages. 

The pluralisation of society has led to a heightened sense of urgency around the part that Catholic schools play in the interaction between faith and reason. That sense of urgency is evident in the concerted efforts of the Church to have all Catholic schools be identical. Here, identity is defined as having “the Christian concept of life” as their reference point (ICSCD 18).

It is obvious to those who are part of Catholic education, that the pluralisation of society applies also to Catholic schools, both to the students, their families and the staff. The dialogue being promoted by the Congregation for Catholic Education must happen also in school as well as in society. The understanding of Catholic identity that is promoted by the school will be a dominant factor in determining the nature of the dialogue. 

Coincidentally, there is a dialogue school project involving Catholic schools in Flanders. The researchers have replicated their work in Australia. The findings from research conducted in Flanders and in Australia yielded four models of Catholic identity. One model focused on dialogue that “re-contextualised” the Catholic faith. The researchers explained it in the following way:

As the world evolves and changes, so do the idea of what it means to be Christian in this world and the way the original evangelical inspiration is given a concrete form. Catholic faith must change her profile and ‘re-contextualise’ herself as she enters each new era.

Is there an echo here of a Jocist understanding of the place of dialogue in the integration of faith and culture and life? The Joseph Cardijn Digital Library has as one of its many sources, a document titled Reflections on Dialogue, which was written by Marguérite Fiévez (1914-2000), a Belgian Catholic, who was at one time the secretary of Cardinal Joseph Cardijn (1882-1967) and collaborated with him during the Second Vatican Council. 

Marguérite Fiévez presents a clear and comprehensive description of what constitutes true dialogue. Written during the time of the Council, her opening statement is worth repeating here: 

“Dialogue” is one of the key words of the world today, one of the signs that expresses a major aspiration of our time, that which calls for a human solution, personalist and community, universal and peaceful, to the fundamental problems of the world. And this at a time when society is becoming increasingly and inseparably both one and pluralist in perpetual transformation and development.

Fiévez views dialogue in much the same way that the proponents of the dialogue school do: dialogue offers those who engage in dialogue the opportunity to appreciate the power of difference in building communities animated by faith that is both human and divine. 

So, how do Catholic schools become places of dialogue? The answer lies in her view of dialogue as aspirational in character: we are united in the task of addressing the “fundamental problems of the world.” And the Catholic school curriculum in the twenty-first century is created through the re-contextualising of its Tradition so that it can dialogue with others as brothers and sisters working together for the common good. 


Pat Branson

Read more .,. 

The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue 

Biography of Marguérite Fiévez

Reflections on Dialogue, written by Marguérite Fiévez