Catholic School Matters

February 24, 2019

Culture & Relationships

A few weeks back, I became aware of a blog post by a parish priest arguing that children don’t necessarily belong in the sanctuary. I heard echoes of what people often argue about school culture—that is elusive and only understood by a select few. His central argument:

There is something in Catholic Church culture that insists kids belong in the sanctuary for Mass. I must say I don’t totally understand it, but it is definitely a Catholic thing. Part of the thinking is that sheer exposure to the service imbues them with grace and other good things in some kind of effortless and mindless sort of way. But if they can’t understand the readings and they cannot take Communion, it is unclear what they are “receiving” Sacramentally.

I became aware of this blog post by the volume of outrage on Twitter. But then I read the great post by Timothy O’Malley from Notre Dame’s Center for Liturgy who articulated some of my thoughts on a proper response.

So rather than create a special liturgy for children appropriate to their understanding, let us have music that is worth listening to and singing along with. Let us build altarpieces and reredos that actually give both infants and adults something to behold in worship. Let us attend to the way that light sanctifies space, how color delights the eye. And perhaps some of the children are bored at Mass, not because they are incapable of understanding what is going on, but because there is too much speech and not enough silence, not enough embodied action, not enough to behold.

We don’t all need to understand everything that is going on in a Mass in order for it to “count.” If that were true we all need to understand every symbol, hear every inference, and be locked in to listen to the homily. This would exclude those with disabilities, those who are tired and burdened, those who’ve never received an education on the liturgy, and the young. But liturgy is meant to be more than a didactic teaching experience. And the homily is certainly not the center of the Mass. If it is, we are failing our liturgies!

I came across a great article on boredom in the New York Times, “Let Children Get Bored Again” which argues that we should allow for a certain amount of boredom in order to encourage creativity. We don’t need to endlessly entertain in liturgy nor in life.

I was listening to Springsteen on Broadway and understood a song’s lyrics for the first time. Does that make the song more enjoyable or meaningful? Perhaps. Does that invalidate my previous experience? Not a chance! I loved that song and could experience the song despite my ignorance. Have you ever been moved by opera although you couldn’t understand the words?

Liturgy needs symbols, words, gestures, and song that speak to all of us at our levels. In the same way, our school cultures should speak to us on levels that we can’t even articulate. This article in Usable Knowledge from Harvard Graduate School of Education defines school culture as a web of relationships. These strong and overlapping interactions make a school culture come alive. Before we dive in to that meaning, think about the opposite. Have you ever seen a school struggling with culture where the principal is accessible? Where everyone knows the janitor? Where the librarian knows every student by name? Where you see easy and friendly interactions between teachers and parents? Where you see alumni welcomed back to visit often?

You’ve probably never seen a school with open and accessible relationships struggle with culture.

A culture will be strong or weak depending on the interactions between people in the organization. In a strong culture, there are many, overlapping, and cohesive interactions, so that knowledge about the organization’s distinctive character — and what it takes to thrive in it — is widely spread.

A school can struggle to define its norms, core beliefs, etc but usually not when the relationships are open and overlapping. School culture is experienced by all—even those who can’t articulate what school culture even is.

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Dr. Tim Uhl

Big picture

Leadership Scenarios

Your school pastor insists that all staff members attend Sunday Mass. He mentions that he has never seen a certain teacher attend Mass. When you inquire, she reveals a bitterness toward the Church over the sexual abuse scandal because he brother had been abused by a priest. She says she still loves being part of the Church but cannot bring herself to attend Mass.

American Catholic News

Catholic Schools Closing, Opening & Merging

  1. Lorain (OH) Catholic school may close
  2. Saint Francis (HI) Catholic school to close
  3. Houma (LA) Catholic school to remain open in a reversal
  4. Diocese of Brooklyn to close 3 Catholic schools
  5. Second Lincoln (NE) Diocese Catholic school to close
  6. Pittsburgh Diocese to close 2 Catholic schools, merge 2 others

Leadership Links

Teaching & Learning


What I'm Up To

I have just returned from Seattle where I was fortunate to attend the funeral of Pat Miranda (pictured at right), who devoted over 40 years to Bishop Blanchet HS as a student, teacher, coach, and administrator. It was great to see so many old friends turn out in tribute to someone who displayed so much kindness and grace as an administrator.

Last week I was recovering from my superb visit to Guam. The vistas were only surpassed by the incredible hospitality and kindness of my hosts at two great schools who worked so hard for their accreditation, Dominican and Santa Barbara. I was also able to record a great podcast panel which I'll air later this spring.

This week we welcome Dr. Rachel Moreno, an ACE professor emeritus, for some instructional coaching in Hays. I'll be traveling there twice as well as visiting our schools in Havre, Great Falls, Browning, Kalispell, and Missoula. If the weather holds, that is!

On this week's Catholic School Matters Radio Hour podcast, I bring on four super guests to explore different aspects of our work in Catholic schools. First, Dr. Massimo Faggioli of Villanova joins me to discuss the crisis in the Church. Then NCEA presenter Jodee Blanco talks about dealing with difficult parents in Catholic schools and meeting the needs of our students. Caroline Sliney, the dynamic leader of Blessed Sacrament in NYC and a PLACE Corps and ACE Remick graduate, talks about the struggles and successes of an urban Catholic school. Finally, Jack Peterson of Managing for Mission, explores the intersection of management, mission, and leadership.

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.

  • Sunday: Drive Dr. Moreno to St. Paul's Mission Grade School (Hays)
  • Monday: Visit to St. Jude Thaddeus School (Havre) and Great Falls Catholic schools
  • Tuesday: Visit De La Salle Blackfeet School (Browning)
  • Wednesday: Visit St. Matthew's (Kalispell) and Missoula Catholic Schools
  • Thursday: Office (Helena)
  • Friday: Visit Hays and drive Dr. Moreno to Billings
  • Saturday: return to Helena

Miles this week: 1,660 driving miles

Miles travelled in 2018-19: 23,238 road miles; 58,760 air miles

Last 5 Books

  1. Character and the Contemplative Principal (2003) by Merylann J. Schuttloffel
  2. Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards (2005) by Richard P. Chait, William P. Ryan, and Barbara E. Taylor
  3. From Brokenness to Community (1992) by Jean Vanier.
  4. American Grace: How American Religion Divides and Unites Us (2012) by Robert D. Putnam & David E. Campbell
  5. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2001) by Robert D. Putnam.

Click this link for a full list of my professional reading

For Montana Administrators & Teachers

  • Here is the slideshow from the Feb 5th Virtual Admin Meeting
  • We are scheduled for the Middle School day at the Legislature on April 5th
  • Here is the link to the survey to assess our professional development needs for this fall's Catholic Teacher Days

Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

February 10, 2019 "Leadership"

February 3, 2019 "NCEA Convention Preview"

January 27, 2019 "Catholic Schools Week"

January 20, 2019 "School Choice"

January 13, 2019 "What's Your Story?"

January 6, 2018 "Happy New Year"

December 2, 2018 "Building Community"

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?"