Teachers at Catholic schools are daily witnesses to Christ and are tasked with integrating the faith into every lesson, said Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, Wis., in an interview with The Cardinal Newman Society. Because of the unique responsibilities inherent in teaching, it should be understood as a “vocation” and not a “career” that is primarily for Catholics, he explained.
The interview with Bishop Ricken, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, is the latest in a series of Newman Society conversations with bishops about Catholic education and teachers. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Archbishop John Nienstedt, Bishop David O’Connell and Bishop Richard Lennon have each offered their input on this important subject, especially in light of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s courageous efforts in San Francisco to ensure that Catholic teachers understand their pivotal responsibility to witness to the faith.
A teacher’s most important quality is the ability “to integrate the Catholic faith in every discipline and be a life-long learner in the faith and disciplines which he or she is teaching,” Bishop Ricken stated. The teacher should also ideally “be a practicing Catholic, holding at least a Bachelor’s degree and teacher certification, and be capable of using a variety of teaching methods and differentiated instruction.”
Bishop Ricken added that it is of utmost importance for teachers to be witnesses to the Catholic faith:
Referring back to the writings of Pope Pius XI, our teachers should “love Jesus Christ and His Church.” This love—and belief—should shine through in the example of their lives and in what they bring to classroom instruction. Their witness would be evident in everything from attending Mass, to faith integration, utilizing Christian discipline techniques, living a Catholic Christian life-style and engaging in service to the Church, school and community.
For this reason, Catholic schools should place “strong preference” on “hir[ing] only faithful Catholics as teachers,” though exceptions could be made if qualified Catholic candidates are unavailable, Bishop Ricken noted. In such a case, it would be “possible to hire a Christian, non-Catholic teacher who can unreservedly support Catholic faith practices and traditions.”
Bishop Ricken added that an individual’s commitment to Catholic values should “be evident not only in his or her classroom instruction but also in personal lifestyle.” He also advised that “as a general rule, a baptized Catholic who ‘dissents from Catholic doctrine’ should not be hired.”
“In the especially challenging age in which we live, we always want to encourage our fellow clergy, religious and school personnel to remain faithful to the teachings of the Magisterium,” Bishop Ricken told the Newman Society. He shared that his own Diocese of Green Bay has rarely experienced “staff which run counter to these teachings.” However, in such cases, the Diocese works to “treat the employee in a respectful, life-giving way and avoid[s] giving scandal, while remaining true to the dogma we teach and to our calling as disciples of Christ.”
“A teacher in a Catholic school is a ‘minister,’” Bishop Ricken said. “He or she is engaged in integrating the faith into every discipline that is taught.” To that end, school administrators and teachers in the Diocese of Green Bay are educated through a religion certification program, which covers “instruction in the Creed, sacraments and liturgy, morality, prayer and spirituality, Bible basics and integration of the faith into lesson plans.”
“All of this instruction goes hand in hand with, and supports, the concept of religious freedom,” Bishop Ricken pointed out. Additionally, school administrator contracts include a clause “which spells out that the individual must live a life in accordance with the Church’s teachings on faith and morals.”
Bishop Ricken is a long-time promoter of faithful Catholic education. He is a co-founder of Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyo., which is recommended in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity. This past January, he expressed his “strong disapproval” with St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., for honoring pro-abortion rights speaker Gloria Steinem in an on-campus dialogue and noted that Steinem’s appearance at the Catholic college represented an “internal contradiction.”