Archbishop J. Michael Miller, C.S.B., the former secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, authored The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools
(Sophia Institute Press, 2006). In his book, Miller outlines five essential marks of a Catholic school:
"A Catholic school should be inspired by a supernatural vision, founded on Christian anthropology, animated by communion and community, imbued with a Catholic worldview throughout its curriculum, and sustained by gospel witness" (p.17).
These five areas provide the foundation for the true nature of Catholic education as proclaimed by Pope Paul VI in the Vatican II declaration Gravissimum Educationis
"A Christian education does not merely strive for the maturing of a human person as just now described, but has as its principal purpose this goal: that the baptized, while they are gradually introduced the knowledge of the mystery of salvation, become ever more aware of the gift of Faith they have received, and that they learn in addition how to worship God the Father in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23) especially in liturgical action, and be conformed in their personal lives according to the new man created in justice and holiness of truth (Eph. 4:22-24); also that they develop into perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:13) and strive for the growth of the Mystical Body; moreover, that aware of their calling, they learn not only how to bear witness to the hope that is in them (cf. Peter 3:15) but also how to help in the Christian formation of the world that takes place when natural powers viewed in the full consideration of man redeemed by Christ contribute to the good of the whole society (#2)."
"No less than other schools does the Catholic school pursue cultural goals and the human formation of youth. But its proper function is to create for the school community a special atmosphere animated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity, to help youth grow according to the new creatures they were made through baptism as they develop their own personalities, and finally to order the whole of human culture to the news of salvation so that the knowledge the students gradually acquire of the world, life and man is illumined by faith. So indeed the Catholic school, while it is open, as it must be, to the situation of the contemporary world, leads its students to promote efficaciously the good of the earthly city and also prepares them for service in the spread of the Kingdom of God, so that by leading an exemplary apostolic life they become, as it were, a saving leaven in the human community (#6)."
Today there is a crisis in education throughout the Western world, repeatedly brought to the attention of the Church by Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI throughout his pontificate. Benedict’s concern was not associated with the lack of general knowledge and skills, but a pervasive ignorance of Jesus Christ among the young. In his address to Catholic educators at The Catholic University of America (2008), Pope Benedict presented the Church’s vision for Catholic schools:
"First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals His transforming love and truth (cf. Spe Salvi, 4). This relationship elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and His teaching.
"… [T]he contemporary “crisis of truth” is rooted in a “crisis of faith”. Only through faith can we freely give our assent to God’s testimony and acknowledge Him as the transcendent guarantor of the truth He reveals. Again, we see why fostering personal intimacy with Jesus Christ and communal witness to His loving truth is indispensable in Catholic institutions of learning. Yet we all know, and observe with concern, the difficulty or reluctance many people have today in entrusting themselves to God. …A particular responsibility therefore for each of you, and your colleagues, is to evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life that follows from this belief.
"…Clearly, then, Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics. Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content. It demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith. Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom (cf. Spe Salvi, 23). In this way our institutions make a vital contribution to the mission of the Church and truly serve society. They become places in which God’s active presence in human affairs is recognized and in which every young person discovers the joy of entering into Christ’s “being for others” (cf. ibid., 28)."
With remarks centering on Catholic identity in an ad limina address to American bishops in May 2012, Pope Benedict stressed the importance of the integration of faith into Catholic education:
"…[T]he question of Catholic identity… entails much more than the teaching of religion or the mere presence of a chaplaincy on campus. All too often, it seems, Catholic schools and colleges have failed to challenge students to reappropriate their faith as part of the exciting intellectual discoveries which mark the experience of higher education. …In every aspect of their education, students need to be encouraged to articulate a vision of the harmony of faith and reason capable of guiding a life-long pursuit of knowledge and virtue."
With the vision for Catholic education proclaimed in Gravissimum Educationis
, and now, fifty years later, highlighted in the address by Pope Benedict, The Cardinal Newman Society has expanded the Catholic High School Honor Roll to not only encourage Catholic high schools to preserve and strengthen their Catholic identity through the Catholic High School Honor Roll Schools of Excellence Awards but also to assist them in attaining that Catholic identity.