The pastoral care of schools is part of the identity of Catholic schools. Salvation of soul is the supreme law (Canon 1752); hence pastoral care is a major concern in Onitsha Archdiocesan schools.
In view of the above, all Catholic schools in Onitsha Archdiocese have a functional priest-chaplain that takes care of the pastoral needs of both students and staff. This chaplain, usually, is different from the manager/principal of the school. This is desirable so as to separate the external and internal functions according to the mind of the Church.
Pastoral care of the school requires that the Holy Mass be celebrated regularly and daily for the entire school community where possible. However, it is expected that Holy mass should be celebrated in all schools at least twice a term at the beginning and closing.
Students of other denominations, are allowed to attend their own Church services only on Sundays, when there is a teacher to guide them in their going and coming. Students (school prefects alone) are not allowed as guides in this situation unless there are reasons to the contrary.
Confessions are organized for students and staff at least twice a month and to be conducted/organized by the Chaplain. Where there is no priest-chaplain and the Principal, is priest, it is always advised that he invites another priest to help with the confessions.
Preparing students for the reception of First Holy Communion or Confirmation is a vital aspect of pastoral care. Hence the Principal or Head teacher enquires particularly from new students those who have not received First Holy Communion or Confirmation and assigns a capable person to prepare them for these sacraments. If the school has a canonically constituted chaplaincy, Holy Communion is being performed there otherwise, the Principal arranges with the host parish priest to have it performed in his parish. Confirmation is being performed whenever the Archbishop visits the school.
Sunday recollection for students is being organized at least once a month. Educators have discovered that training in silence and meditation is vital to the overall maturity of students.
Retreats is also being organized at least once a year for students separately from that of the staff.
Furthermore, spiritual consultation with the Chaplain is something that does assist students in finding answers to their personal and family challenges in today’s complex world. Apart from during retreat and recollections, this is also being done at any convenient time for the chaplain and the student ensuring non conflict with the general school program.
At the background, it is remembered that the mind of the Church about the education apostolate is that the school is structured towards fraternal humanism leading to a community of love. Each person’s activity builds up the humanity of others enabling them to achieve their God-given missions in life and realize their full potentials. At the core of this community of love, there are some essential marks of a Christian community which are: service, sharing, worship, and witnessing.
The school leader is expected to build a community spirit by promoting these marks of community in all Archdiocesan Schools. Witnessing is critical from top to bottom of the school organogram. It is therefore important that the school leader pays attention to relationships within and outside the school community. The school’s “spirit” manifests itself in the type of relationships that exist within it. Such interpersonal relationship is spontaneous and sincere, built on love, grace, dialogue and prayer. Without this primary mark of a Christian community, the others will be difficult to inculcate.
School climate has to do with the psychological environment of the school, while school culture explains the modus vivendiet operandi (what is permissible or acceptable) in the school. Climate and culture are most critical in maintaining the Catholic identity of the school. These include: how people feel within the school, how people are treated, what is acceptable and vice versa, the religious and other feasts that are celebrated, the presence of a Chapel, preferably at the entrance or centre of the school compound. The school climate and culture reveal the underlying vision and mission of the school.
Noting that school climate can be closed or open, it is important to realize that only an open climate will be according to the mind of the Church in training her children. Such climate allows every person contribute to without fear, his/her fair share in building up the school. Care is being taken on the culture being built in a Catholic school as wrong precedents can hinder acceptability of future plans and interventions thereby impacting negatively, on the overall wellbeing of the school community.
Respect for human dignity would be ensured if a good spirit of community is established in a school, or if the adequate Catholic understanding and spirit reigned in the school. Members of the school community (parents, teachers, students, and other staff) is being seen as individuals created in the image of God and called ultimately to a supernatural vocation. Everyone should, at all times, be treated as persons with respect, not objects, numbers or figures. Should there be need to correct or discipline them, the Catholic school leader ensures that decisions, corrections, and policies there may be, are administered with love and measured sensitivity. In all, dealing with Image of God, albeit flawed sometimes, should prevail in Catholic schools.
An important distinguishing element of the Catholic school is the celebration of the Eucharist within the school as well as other sacraments. This is being done in such a way that there is harmony between the celebration of the sacraments and the other daily school programmes.
There is regular Sunday and desirably, weekday masses in all schools with boarding facilities. At other times, it is strongly recommended that in all Catholic schools, Patron feasts, inauguration of the academic year, prize-giving days and other special occasions should begin with Holy Mass or some appropriate prayer. Sacramental confessions are being organized at fixed regular periods in all boarding schools and also non boarding schools. Preparation for First Holy Communion and Confirmation, when these are needed, are being encouraged. However, these pastoral activities should always respect the time for scheduled programmes of the school. Schools should have functional chaplains appointed by the Archbishop officially, to see to the spiritual needs of the students.
Catholic schools are committed to holistic education because they focus on the overall formation of the human person. Onitsha Archdiocesan schools promote the values of hardwork, honesty, self-control, prudence, etc. The promotion of these values should go beyond ideology and theory unto effective practice. In that regard, vices like examination malpractice which have taken deep root in the educational landscape of Nigeria cannot be seen to have life in Catholic schools which must be seen to be above board in this regard.
Other social vices common in the adolescence stage like cultism, misdemeanour gangs, negative peer pressure, bullying, experimenting with sexual activities among others are not be allowed in any form or manner.
To this end, formative programmes like formation forum, manager’s/principal’s conference, spiritual conference and so on that help students to imbibe these values are major parts of the school programme.
2. NON CATHOLICS IN CATHOLIC SCHOOLS
Persons of other faith or ecclesial communities could study or teach in Catholic schools. Given that the Catholic Church is a welcoming institution, she does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity or religion. The very presence of non-Catholics in Catholic schools could be an example of the interreligious dialogue that Catholic schools promote. The religious freedom of staff and students is being respected according to laid down norms. Sunday worship is according to religious persuasion unless otherwise personally, desired by Non-Catholics to join in Catholic liturgy, while other moments of prayer is done together in line with the culture of the school. While Catholic schools are places for proselytization, care should be taken not to compromise the identity or mission of Catholic schools.
Best practices and procedures in addition to sufficient sensitivity are being employed followed, and shown accordingly, in the admission of non-Catholic students and teachers for two reasons: 1) so that their religious rights will not be violated; (2) So that the Catholic identity of the school and the school religious practices are preserved.
The Archdiocesan Education office works hard to explain this important issue to new school managers/principals. Such persons have right to know their rights, freedom, expectations and obligations in a Catholic school. This initial clarification is necessary to avoid expectations that may lead to avoidable and unnecessary conflicts or complaints.