Defining Success In A Catholic School


Defining success in a Catholic school is a challenging task. Last week I was invited to do a live Q and A for the NCEA 2020 Virtual Convention. During that interview I was asked a question about the quest for ‘success’ in  a Catholic school. For me, there were two core components here. In today’s episode let’s take a moment to talk about what we really mean when we talk about success in a Catholic school. How can we be sure that all our efforts are heading in the right direction.

Defining success in a Catholic school is a crucial task and there were two core components here. First how do we define success and second, how do we deal with whole topic of ambition. Are we supposed to be ambitious in a Catholic school? My mother was an Archbishop’s secretary for 25 years and I learned from watching her that human ambition does not necessarily disappear the moment someone chooses a vocation.

First, how do we define success in a Catholic school? For many people what comes to mind is enrolment numbers, tests scores and the general pastoral and community feel of a particular campus. These have their place but did Jesus go to Calvary so that we could keep schools open and send enough people to an Ivy League College. Enrolments and tests scores are an important component of success in a Catholic school but they are not the main event.

So what does define success.

Way back in 1953 lay theologian Frank Sheed put it like this:

frank sheed

Frank Sheed

“The indispensable minimum is the Catholics coming out of our schools should emerge with a tremendous devotion to Christ, our Lord with and awareness of Him and a considerable knowledge of His life and personality, and desire to increase that knowledge; if they have got that they are all right; even if they have got nothing else, they are still all right, they will come to very little harm. But if they have not, all other excellences don’t do them a great deal of good.”

I always liked those words. Why? Because our schools exist to help young people become life-long disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict said that the purpose of evangelisation was not to put people in touch with Jesus, but rather, to put them in communion with Him. There is a big difference between teaching about Jesus as figure of history as opposed to creating environments, experiences and school cultures where people actually develop a relationship with him that lasts for life.

 Integral Formation

A second criteria for success is simply helping each person to fully develop their gifts. This is what the Church documents on Catholic education refer to as ‘integral formation’ It is the development of each human person in their unique abilities within a vision of them as willed into existence by God for a future of hope and purpose.

I will pick up the issue of ambition tomorrow but for now let’s reflect upon these twin pillars of helping our students become disciples and of helping them truly flourish in their gifts. That would lead to a wonderful and vibrant and successful Catholic school.




Jonathan Doyle

Jonathan Doyle

Jonathan Doyle is a global Catholic speaker, author, executive coach and consultant. He has spoken around the world to more than 400,000 people on topics related to Catholic education, leadership and mission.

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One Catholic Teacher exists to inspire, encourage and support Catholic teachers around the world. Each day Jonathan Doyle offers a short dose of formation and encouragement via The Catholic Teacher Daily Podcast. Jonathan is also a global speaker and author on all issues related to Catholic Education.