Living and learning: the role of faith schools
John Browne, Headmaster of Stonyhurst College
Faith schools have provided a thread of educational continuity through European history back to the monastic schools of the great cathedrals and before. But in an increasingly secular society what is the role of a faith school today?
Stonyhurst College is part of a network of about 850 Jesuit schools around the world founded by Saint Ignatius and now educating more than one million young people. The Jesuits have a reputation for running schools and have enjoyed an increasingly high profile with the election of Pope Francis.
Ignatius sets out the mission of his schools as the ‘improvement in living and learning for the greater glory of God and the common good.’ Living and learning provide two columns of support for human flourishing. The phrase ‘for the greater glory of God’ in Latin provides the initials AMDG written on the top of every piece of work by young people in Jesuit schools as a subtle reminder of a greater aim.
Faith schools are in the business of the ‘formation’ – guiding and counselling young people as they grapple with their own questions and beliefs and begin to understand their own place in the world. They are not about imposing belief or observance.
For a Roman Catholic school this guidance is based on gospel values. The 11 Jesuit schools in the UK have devised a set of virtues to articulate this vision called the Pupil Profile.
The Pupil Profile consists of seven pairs of virtues illustrated here as a word cloud representing the mustard tree from the Parable of the mustard seed in the Gospel of Matthew. The smallest seed becomes the largest tree and the birds of the air shelter in its branches. The goldfinch represents Christ.
Grateful for their own gifts, for the gift of other people, and for the blessings of each day; and generous with their gifts, becoming men and women for others.
Attentive to their experience and to their vocation; and discerning about the choices they make and the effects of those choices.
Compassionate towards others, near and far, especially the less fortunate; and loving by their just actions and forgiving words.
Faith-filled in their beliefs and hopeful for the future.
Eloquent and truthful in what they say of themselves, the relations between people, and the world.
Learned, finding God in all things; and wise in the ways they use their learning for the common good.
Curious about everything; and active in their engagement with the world, changing what they can for the better.
Intentional in the way they live and use the resources of the earth, guided by conscience; and prophetic in the example they set to others.
This resource can provide themes for assemblies and presentations or even the structure for a whole pastoral programme. It has become the language of our schools.
This is the Jesuit approach, but all faith schools expound similar values. It is a compelling message for families and for society of all faiths and of none.
Given the influence we have on young people, boarding schools have a particular responsibility for formation. We must see beyond compliance to the needs of the individual and seek to accompany young people rather than just providing distraction and entertainment. There must be authentic relationships. Young people make mistakes and of course the perfect school has yet to be invented.
John Browne is Headmaster of Stonyhurst College. John was educated in the Jesuit tradition at St Ignatius College in London, After graduating from university he became an Organ Scholar at Westminster Cathedral. From there he went to teach at The Latymer School and then Berkhamsted School, the latter as Director of Music. He returned to Westminster Cathedral as Headmaster of the Cathedral Choir School before becoming Deputy Headmaster at Ampleforth College and then Headmaster of St Aloysius’ College in Glasgow.