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Fr Richard Leonard SJ (The Southern Cross)

Catholic schools are modern missionary territories. That was the message from Jesuit priest, film critic and former teacher Fr Richard Leonard SJ when he addressed 260 South Australian Catholic school leaders. Source: The Southern Cross.

In a sometimes confronting address at the Adelaide Convention Centre, which included latest statistics on religious practice and a snapshot of Catholic education in Australia, Fr Leonard outlined some of the challenges and opportunities for principals and assistant principals.

“Schools are not a business, they are a series of relationships, relationship with God, the Church community and stakeholders,” he said.

“So how do we animate our vision for a faith-filled community that’s neither pious nor fundamentalist?

“Unashamedly we are following Jesus, it’s Jesus’ way, truth and light and we’re on the same mission, sometimes the parish and the school can feel increasingly like we’re on two missions; it’s the one mission with two expressions.”

Fr Leonard said nobody baptised or celebrated weddings and funerals better than Catholics “when we get it right”.

“They are our greatest evangelical moments, people who go to a cathedral for a big funeral are probably not believers, but they’re on our turf and we need to welcome them, take that group very seriously because they have an impact on who we are,” he said.

Similarly, Catholic schools should be embraced.

“Demand for Catholic education is ever increasing, our schools are going up (in enrolments) but participation in local parishes is going down, dramatically so,” Fr Leonard said.

“The practice rates are plummeting – I think only 9.1 per cent of all Catholics go to Mass on Sunday. That makes schools mission territories – modern mission territories.”

“I know some clergy who will not go to schools because they (families) are not coming to Mass on Sunday; they just won’t go. I can’t get over the lack of missionary intelligence here. Even if you are resentful and angry about it, well, why not redouble your efforts to try and build relationships, try and find out how we can help you, support you and then make it attractive to come.”

Fr Leonard encouraged school leaders to be welcoming and create hospitable liturgical communities that include people and feature good music and good preaching.


Jesuit speaks home truths to school leaders (The Southern Cross)