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Education in Catholic Schools as Public Theology

Date of news: 27 May 2016

On the 24th of May, the Center for Catholic Studies and the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies hosted a conference entitled, Education in Catholic Schools as Public Theology, which dealt with the opportunities and challenges in the field of Catholic Education in the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK. The conference was organised for academics, inspectors and teachers in Catholic schools, and Head Teachers of Religious Education.


The attendees of the conference were welcomed by Frans Wijsen (Radboud University), who stated that the event dealt with timely issues, due to the large amount of open questions that we are currently faced with regarding religious education in Catholic schools. This was followed by Mgr. Jan Hendriks, the Auxiliary Bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam, who read a letter from Mgr. Angelo Vincenzo Zani, the Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, which was addressed to the participants of the conference. In his letter, the bishop stressed the relevance of understanding our neighbour on our way to truth. In his personal message, Mgr. Hendriks emphasized the importance of the principle of subsidiarity and the particular role of Catholic schools, in which “faith is expressed in culture and in life”.

The first session, Current Challenges and Opportunities in Catholic Education, was chaired by Christoph Hübenthal (Radboud University). During the first half of this session, Lieven Boeve (Flemish Secretary for Catholic Education, KU Leuven) explained the role of the Catholic Dialogue school in a post-secular and post-Christian Flanders. In his lecture, Boeve stated that it is more correct to speak of ‘pluralisation’ rather than secularisation. The Dialogue school starts precisely from this perspective, in its vision that young people discover their own identity through dialogue with each other. This conviction is inherently part of Christianity, which places the idea of the human person in relation with others at its heart. Hereafter, Philip Robinson (Catholic Education Service, England) spoke about various challenges in the field of Catholic Education in England. Robinson emphasized the importance of free Catholic education for every Catholic family and to have at least some independency from the state. He too discussed the essential role of dialogue, but added that a decent dialogue is unachievable without possessing knowledge about one’s own religious tradition.

The second session, The Future of Catholic Education, was led by Carl Sterkens (Radboud University). In the first lecture, Chris Hermans (Radboud University) discussed what constitutes a good teacher. In doing so, he started from the theories of Karl Ernst Nipkow. At the end of his presentation, Hermans presented five key points: 1) education in communion and for communion; 2) the vocation for the fullness of life, in which the Human Rights and the dignity of people as children of God are respected; 3) the model of moral dignity in which strong individuals are formed, who are capable of making responsible decisions; 4) interpreting the Signs of the Times by way of a dialogue between culture and faith; and 5) the spirituality of communion, which welcomes everybody in their plurality of gifts. The final speaker was Leonardo Franchi (St Andrew’s Foundation for Catholic Teacher Education, University of Glasgow), who also focussed on the societal role of education. According to Franchi, dialogue is part of the Christian’s DNA. He therefore referred to Pope Francis, who stated that we have to go to people and spend time with them. In this sense, religious education has the task of forming the moral character of young people as to enable them to engage with the broader culture. To conclude the conference, there was a plenary discussion moderated by Joshua Furnal (Radboud University), and the participants from the different countries were able to exchange their experiences and offer constructive and critical feedback in dialogue with each other. Although no formal date has been set for a subsequent conference, the desire to do so was clearly expressed by all the attendees to further address the need for internationalization in Catholic education.

Click here to view the photo album from this event

Report written by: Jeroen Jans (Radboud University)