Educating For Life

Theology's Groome pens a book distilling the essence of Catholic education

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Prof. Thomas Groome (Theology) says he was inspired to write his new book by a visit he made four years ago to the Jesus and Mary Convent School in Karachi, Pakistan, a Catholic academy with alumni who include former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and other sons and daughters of Pakistan's elite.

Groome found no crucifixes or other outward trappings of Catholicism at the school. The handful of nuns on its otherwise all-Muslim faculty were banned by law from proselytizing, he noted, and the Muslim pupils who made up 95 percent of the school's enrollment were given religious instruction in Islam, not Christianity.

Yet the underlying approach to education at the school, Groome said, was a sensibility uniquely Catholic.

"The philosophy of education operative there is clearly a Catholic philosophy," he said, "one shared by the Muslim faculty and Muslim parents and Muslim alumni who keep sending their kids there. I set out to describe that philosophy. I asked myself, 'What is the difference? What do they do here, and how do they do it, that makes them Catholic?'"

His resulting book, Educating for Life: A Spiritual Vision for Every Teacher and Parent , offers what Groome calls a "spirituality of education." In defining what makes a Catholic education, Groome distills eight characteristics, or "depth structures," that he sees at the heart of Catholic Christianity.

Prof. Thomas Groome (Theology)-Catholicism is marked by a commitment to tradition, "not as dead letters, but as a treasury." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Educating for Life describes an "undergirding philosophy to Catholic education that is life-giving, and can be shared by anybody, regardless of faith," said Groome, a faculty member at the Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry.

In describing his ideal of a "Catholic" education, Groome draws upon what he sees as the core convictions of Catholic Christianity. These include "a hopeful and positive understanding of the human person, an emphasis on community and the common good and a deep commitment to justice and compassion," he said.

Catholicism is marked by a commitment to tradition, "not as dead letters, but as a treasury," Groome said, "never to be simply defended, but always to be rethought and reclaimed." It upholds the principle of sacramentality, he said, "on seeing more in the midst of the ordinary - or in Ignatian terms, perceiving God in all things."

Also central to Catholicism is an understanding that knowledge is a stepping stone to wisdom and that "living wisely is more important than merely knowing a lot," said Groome. Lastly, Catholicism reflects "an understanding of 'catholicity' itself as a sentiment of inclusion, of welcome and of hospitality," he said.

From these Catholic strands, Groome weaves a holistic approach to education that he presents with optimism and numerous practical suggestions. Educating for Life , he said, conveys "a commitment to a sense of education as a sacred and a spiritual task that is nurturing the very soul of the person. The book proposes ways of doing that that are profoundly humanizing."

Groome adds that his book "is not a polemic on behalf of Catholic schools. It calls upon Catholic schools to measure up to their own spirituality and their own theology."

In addition to his 22 years of teaching at Boston College, Groome has lectured widely throughout the world, and previously authored several widely read books in the religious education field, among them Christian Religious Education and Sharing the Faith.

Educating for Life is already drawing advance praise from eminent religious educators, among them Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame. Fr. Hesburgh called the book a "groundbreaking work" that "reweaves old and new wisdom into fresh possibilities for education wherever it takes place: in public and parochial schools, in congregations and parish programs, in our families."

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