At The Franciscan School, we are committed to teaching our students the fundamental truths that embody our faith and illuminate the characteristics of Jesus Christ. We have a responsibility that in forming our students in the Catholic faith, we must also introduce them to Catholic Social Teaching. In fact, Catholic Social Teaching is an essential part of our faith. It is externalizing what we ourselves have come to know is true about God’s love for us. Tim Fasano, Coordinator of Justice and Peace at St. Francis of Assisi, explains that, “Catholic Social Teaching is the living of God’s compassionate heart to the world, and the making of God’s love present in society.”
It’s important to note that Catholic Social Teaching is not a political ideology or worldview. It is based on the Gospel and the reality of God’s love, as well as how we act out God’s love for others. Fasano says that Catholic Social Teaching can help students answer questions such as, “What does it look like to live out my faith?”, and “How can I serve and live for others?” Without the fullness of the Gospel, it’s rather difficult to have an authentic faith or be a light to the world.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states, “The Catholic Church's social teaching is a rich treasure of wisdom about building a just society and living lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society.” Catholic Social Teaching embodies seven key principles: Life and Dignity of the Human Person; Call to Family, Community, and Participation; Rights and Responsibilities; Option for the Poor and Vulnerable; The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers; Solidarity; and Care for God’s Creation.
TFS has purposefully taught these seven principles at the grade levels, but a school-wide initiative had not been in place. During COVID, some of the large group gatherings were put on hold. Last year, TFS re-formed a Catholic Social Teaching committee to address how the school could intentionally re-introduce the principles and integrate them into the school calendar. The committee is made up of seven teachers and administrators from both TFS and St. Francis parish. Celina Manville, K-5 Learning Specialist, shared that, “One of the pillars of how the St. Francis community lives out its faith is by seeing the tremendous value of Catholic Social Teaching and understanding it. Our principal, Dawn Smith, is committed to forging a path for its future growth.”
To more tangibly schedule this time for teachers, the committee decided to bridge Catholic Social Teaching with the One Book, One School initiative. For each month of the school year, TFS highlights one of the seven principles to explore with students. Then, for one day of that month, and in coordination with One School, One Book, students participate in a variety of grade-level appropriate activities to reinforce a more concrete understanding of each of the seven principles.
Every teacher is given Catholic Social Teaching signs to post in their classroom that describe each principle in child-friendly terms. Manville shares that this offers a common language for teachers and students across grade levels. These days begin with morning prayer (like all of our school days), and then students participate in rotations designed to reinforce each principle. Sometimes, school-wide activities are planned, such as an opportunity to listen to a speaker from an organization or participate in an activity organized on the field. Other times, teachers are provided with a resource sheet with a variety of rotations to choose from that they believe would best suit their students. Each Catholic Social Teaching day typically closes with a gathering either in the church or courtyard to reflect, share, and recap the principle in some way. Often these gatherings include some praise and worship songs as well.
As the program continues to grow, the committee plans to include more hands-on service opportunities for the students. The Office of Justice and Peace at St. Francis works with more than 20 ministries to serve immediate needs and advocate for justice. Fasano’s role is to help connect families and parishioners to what the church is doing with these ministries so that they can learn and serve in tangible ways. “We provide an encounter for both the person being served and the person serving,” says Fasano.
By incorporating Catholic Social Teaching into the fabric of our school, we are helping our students to become more fully formed in Catholicism, develop a deeper understanding of how they can serve and operate in the world around them, and embody in them caring and compassionate hearts.