Catholic School Matters

December 2, 2018

Building Community

After a Thanksgiving spent with relatives, I found myself thinking about the polarization present in our society. NCR ran a great story last week on “Healing Polarization in the Church” and the NY Times a funny piece entitled “How To Have a Conversation with Your Angry Uncle.” It’s on our minds as the toxic political and media environments are seeping into our church.

We cannot allow the poison of acrimony to enter into our church communities. We cannot divide ourselves into two camps and lob insults at each other. We must dialogue within the Church. And there’s no better place to start than the recently-canonized St. Paul VI’s Ecclesiam Suam (1964) an encyclical which addressed the four characteristics of dialogue:

1. Clarity—what is said must be intelligible.

2. Meekness rather than arrogance or offensive words.

3. Confidence in the good will of both parties.

4. Sensitivity to the audience.

In this lengthy encyclical, St. Paul VI takes pain to describe the importance of dialogue—not proving one’s point, not demonizing another side, but listening and speaking toward the common good. I thought of the model of Jean Vanier and the L’Arche community which seeks to make the disabled the center of the community and surround them with able-bodied volunteers. “A Christian community should do as Jesus did: propose and not impose. Its attraction must lie in the radiance cast by the love of brothers.”

The US Bishops pick up this theme in their latest pastoral against racism “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love” (2018).

From revelation, we know that the one God who created the human race is Triune, a communion of love, and so by faith we recognize all the more clearly that human beings are, by their very nature, made for communion. Pope Benedict XVI noted, ‘As a spiritual being, the human creature is defined through interpersonal relations. The more authentically he or she lives these relations, the more his or her own personal identity matures. It is not by isolation that man establishes his worth, but by placing himself in relation with others and with God.’ We are meant to love God with our whole being, which then overflows into love for our neighbor. (163-169)

We are challenged to create faith communities in our schools. And building faith communities means more than giving our students valuable formative experiences. It means that the adults must commit to listening, respecting, and loving one another. Gary Umhoefer, the retired HR director at St. Norbert, has a great article in the latest Journal of Catholic Higher Education entitled “Teaching by Example: Staff Interactions at Catholic Colleges as Behavioral Models of Christian Love.” He traces how the staff formation programs teach staff members to model Christian love and build community. After all, he asks, “If Catholic colleges cannot provide interpersonal examples to what it means to love one another…will students observe the personal choices this commandment demands?” (198).

I was reminded of a quote from Educating Together in Catholic Schools, the Vatican’s 2007 document on education. As I read through the Church documents on education, I was struck by the use of “communion” instead of community in this document. “It is precisely the presence and life of an educational community, in which all the members participate in a fraternal communion, nourished by a living relationship with Christ and with the Church, that makes the Catholic school the environment for an authentically ecclesial experience” (14).

Notice that the Catholic school is held up as an authentic experience of church (“ecclesial”). We are called to live by a higher standard. We are called to fraternal communion nourished by a living relationship with Christ. This isn’t about understanding and espousing the correct teachings, it’s about forging a true community.

In Catholic schools, we often point to our family atmosphere and community as one of our strengths. And we focus on the student experience of community. But Educating Together calls us to a higher standard—meaning that adults should apply themselves to building community. Gossip, competition, jealousy have no place between teachers, between teachers and principals, between principals, between principals and the Central Office, or even between education departments of different Catholic universities.

As we begin Advent, perhaps we could all benefit from searching for ways to build up each other in our Catholic school communities in order to form communion. For further study on the document, here is link to the study guide and here is the direct link to the podcast I produced with Kristin Melley where we talk about Educating Together.

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Dr. Tim Uhl

Big picture

Community Engagement

  1. I'm putting together a collection of scenarios of Catholic leadership as a means to teach Catholic leaders how to develop their own moral leadership compass. I'll preview a scenario each month and ask you to submit any ideas of Catholic school leadership moral dilemmas to This month's example:

  • 1. 8th grade teacher has a boyfriend and as far as you know they have separate houses. She is divorced. However, you drive by her house on your way to and from work and you begin to notice the boyfriend’s truck parked in the driveway frequently at night and early in the morning. And does your preferred course of action differ if it’s a same sex couple?

American Catholic News

Catholic School News

  1. Archdiocese of Chicago announces changes to Southside Catholic schools
  2. Consolidation plans put on hold for Pennsylvania schools
  3. Catholic schools join program for inclusive education at Notre Dame
  4. St. Mary's HS teachers tour their new school set to open next fall in Bismarck
  5. St. Michae's HS in Toronto rocked by sexual abuse allegations

Leadership Links

Teaching & Learning

Great compilation of Advent resources for teachers and principals courtesy of NCEA


What I'm Up To

As December arrives, my travels will be restricted due to the unpredictable weather. The only trip I know for sure will be a short trip to LA to conduct a previsit at Santa Clara High School. Who scheduled a trip to SoCal in December?

I'm putting together a great podcast for Wednesday, Dec 5th. I'll be joined first by my former guidance counselor at Creighton Prep, Steve Wertzberger, who will be sharing how the profession has changed over the past 4 decades. Then I'll be joined by Dr. Brooke Tesche of the Diocese of Allentown, who is helping to open the Kolbe Academy for students in recovery. This brand new Catholic school is a labor of love and it's a great story. Then best-selling author Jessica Lahey will join me to discuss the reality of teen addiction, the topic of her next book. To prepare for the interviews, I read Dopesick by Beth Macy and it's a heart-breaking, informative, important book that I couldn't put down.

Here is the link to the podcast. Here are videos showing you how to download and subscribe to a podcast on iTunes and how to download and subscribe a podcast on Android.

  • Monday: Office (Helena)
  • Tuesday: Virtual Admin Meetings at 9 am & 1 pm
  • Wednesday: Office (Helena) with scheduled podcast conversation with Dr. Julie Hanlon Rubio of Santa Clara & chancery meetings; Catholic School Matters Radio Hour on teenage addiction
  • Thursday-Fri: Office (Helena)

Miles next 3 weeks: 1,266 driving miles; 1,952 air miles

Miles travelled in 2018-19: 19,455 road miles; 29,497 air miles

Last 5 Books

  1. Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America (2018) by Beth Macy.
  2. Finding a Way Home: Indian and Catholic Spiritual Paths of the Plateau Tribes (1983) by Patrick J. Twohy
  3. The Best American Short Stories (2018) Ed by Roxanne Gray
  4. The Relentless Mercy of God (2017) by Joseph Corpora, CSC
  5. The Illusion of Technique (1979) by William Barrett
  6. Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (2015) by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen

Click this link for a full list of my professional reading along with links to Wed Book Blogs

For Montana Administrators & Teachers

Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

November 18, 2018 "Reframing Enrollment"

November 4, 2018 "Looking at Disaffiliation"

October 21, 2018 "Getting out of the Ditch"

October 7, 2018 "Truth, Mercy, and the Synod"

September 23, 2018 "Native American Experience"

September 16, 2018 "How Are We Forming our Leaders?"

September 9, 2018 "Where is Your Attention?"