Philosophy and Mission of the Academy
“Remember that education is a matter of the heart, of which God is the sole master, and we will be unable to achieve anything unless God teaches us, and puts the key in our hands."
St. John Bosco
Philosophy of Education
And God created man to His own image: to the image of God He created him: male and female He created them. (Genesis 1, 27)
At the very outset of Christian education, we meet this question: “Why did God make you?” Our Catholic Faith gives us the answer: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and serve Him in this world, so as to be happy with Him in heaven.” Following from this simple and straightforward answer concerning human destiny, Pope Pius XI clearly explains and beautifully expresses the Christian Principles for human education. In his encyclical Divini Illius Magistri , devoted to the Christian education of youth, Pope Pius XI states that men,
… created by God to His image and likeness and destined for Him Who is infinite perfection, realize today more than ever amid the most exuberant material progress, the insufficiency of earthly goods to produce true happiness either for the individual or for the nations. And hence they feel more keenly in themselves the impulse towards a perfection that is higher, which impulse is implanted in their rational nature by the Creator Himself. This perfection they seek to acquire by means of education. (Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on Christian Education, Paragraph 6)
Immaculate Conception Academy’s understanding of human education begins with the Christian teaching about human nature. True education enables a person to understand who he is: a creature made in the very image of his divine Creator; a fallen, sinful creature—it is true—but a creature redeemed by a loving God, to Whom he is responsible for his actions.
In professing that God created us in His very image, Immaculate Conception Academy rejects materialism in any form. We profess, therefore, that:
Each of us is uniquely created by God, known and loved by God, and responsible to God, which fact should instill in us a profound self-respect; we are not “gods” unto ourselves, and there is no place in our hearts for a narcissistic sense of self-esteem.
We are wonderfully made with a divine purpose; thus, we are not merely an accidental product of blind evolutionary forces.
We are capable of the most courageous and generous acts for the noblest of motives; we are not merely, as Karl Marx taught, economic animals whose ultimate destiny is to live and to die as workers in a communist society.
We are able to know the objective truth and the objective moral law which is the condition of all sane human living and learning, contrary to the teaching of existentialism which holds that each person must construct his own reality and his own morality.
True human education means drawing a person out of the darkness of ignorance and error by enlightening his mind and sanctifying his will, rather than simply drawing out of a person some light of knowledge he already naturally possesses.
Materialism views human beings as nothing more than animals or chemical machines which can be trained but not truly educated. To the contrary, Christianity maintains that we have immortal souls created by God precisely to know truth and to love goodness. All education must begin with this understanding and must be directed to this goal.
In fact, since education consists essentially in preparing man for what he must be and for what he must do here below, in order to attain the sublime end for which he was created, it is clear that there can be no true education which is not wholly directed to man’s last end, and that in the present order of Providence, since God has revealed Himself to us in the Person of His Only Begotten Son, who alone is “the way, the truth and the life,” there can be no ideally perfect education which is not Christian education. (Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on Christian Education, Paragraph 7)
The Goal of the Academy
The proper and immediate end of Christian education is to cooperate with divine grace in forming the true and perfect Christian, that is, to form Christ Himself in those regenerated by Baptism, according to the emphatic expression of the Apostle: “My little children, of whom I am in labor again, until Christ be formed in you.” [Galatians 4, 19] For the true Christian must live a supernatural life in Christ; “Christ who is your life,” [Colossians 3, 4] and display it in all his actions… (Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on Christian Education, Paragraph 94)
The English word “student” derives from the Latin word for someone who strives zealously for a goal. In that sense, we are all meant to be lifelong students. The goal for which we strive is the perfection of our distinctly human powers of knowing truth and loving goodness. The greater the thoughts which fill our minds and hearts, the better we are as persons. In the limited sense of the word, a “student” is one who pursues academic excellence. But to the true student, in the full meaning of the term, mere academic excellence is not sufficient. He must also strive for personal excellence. True education is crowned and completed by moral education.
For the Christian student, personal excellence consists in keeping the law of God by being faithful to Christ. It means observing the Commandments of God out of love: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” It means following the Beatitudes as a way of life: “Blessed are those…” It means taking to heart and applying the lessons of the two greatest instructions ever given: Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (St. Matthew 5-7) and Discourse at the Last Supper (St. John 15).
Hence the true Christian, product of Christian education, is the supernatural man who thinks, judges and acts constantly and consistently in accordance with right reason illumined by the supernatural light of the example and teaching of Christ; in other words, to use the current term, the true and finished man of character. (Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on Christian Education, Paragraph 96)
The Mission of the Academy
For precisely this reason, Christian education takes in the whole aggregate of human life, physical and spiritual, intellectual and moral, individual, domestic and social, not with a view of reducing it in any way, but in order to elevate, regulate and perfect it, in accordance with the example and teaching of Christ. (Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on Christian Education, Paragraph 95)
Because true Christian education concerns the perfection of all the human faculties, Immaculate Conception Academy sees its mission as involving the entire human being and all the person’s powers of intellect and will, memory and imagination, appetites and passions. The purpose is to instill in the student’s intellect a devotion to truth, to bring the student’s will under the direction of his intellect, and to place his appetites and passions under control of his will. The Academy’s mission, therefore, is expressed well in the invocation: “Come, Holy Ghost, enlighten my mind that I may know what is right; strengthen my will that I may do what is right; inflame my heart with love for God and charity for my neighbor.”
The Academy dedicates itself to instilling a zeal for both intellectual and moral excellence—and providing the means to achieve them. The educational programs of the Academy embrace the physical, social, and spiritual development of its students.
The true Christian does not renounce the activities of this life; he does not stunt his natural faculties but he develops and perfects them by coordinating them with the supernatural. He thus ennobles what is merely natural in life and secures for it new strength in the material and temporal order, no less than in the spiritual and eternal.
True education has a two-fold object: (1) the perfection of the human intellect in its ability to know, to reason, and to express itself and (2) the formation of the will to adhere to what is good and right. To accomplish the two-fold purpose, the Academy employs tried and true methods from the best of human history.
1. Education of the Intellect
Perfect schools are the result not so much of good methods as of good teachers, teachers who are thoroughly prepared and well-grounded in the matter they have to teach; who possess the intellectual and moral qualifications required by their important office; who cherish a pure and holy love for the youths confided to them, because they love Jesus Christ and His Church, of which these are the children of predilection; and who have therefore sincerely at heart the true good of family and country. (Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on Christian Education, Paragraph 88)
To achieve the intellectual development of its students, the Academy employs the classical curriculum, the educational program which has produced the greatest works of literature and the great advancements in the sciences. St. Ignatius Loyola saw in this program an excellent means for the education and salvation of souls and ordered the Society of Jesus to make use of it in all their schools. In the earliest years of educating the students (the Grammar stage), the classical curriculum focuses on developing the student’s abilities to learn information, by listening and reading, and to render that information by the spoken and written word. During the middle years of education (the Logic stage), the curriculum develops the student’s reasoning powers and awakens him to the power of logical thinking, weighing the value of statements according to the rules of logical reasoning and, by the processes of induction and deduction, drawing logical conclusions as well as identifying fallacious arguments. In the latter years of education (the Rhetoric stage), the classical curriculum builds upon the student’s knowledge and reasoning abilities to develop the powers of expressing thoughts in a clear, orderly, elegant, and logical manner.
Throughout this entire educational process, the classical curriculum enhances the student’s powers of learning, reasoning, and self-expression by the inculcation of the Latin language and study of the great literature produced by civilization. A hallmark of the classical curriculum is that the courses of study are not treated as isolated subjects, but they are consistently inter-related to manifest the unity of truth and of knowledge as it has developed through human history to the present day. In this way the classical curriculum enables a student to perfect his powers of knowing accurately, reasoning soundly, and expressing thoughts with clarity and precision.
2. Formation of the Will
In order to obtain perfect education, it is of the utmost importance to see that all those conditions which surround the child during the period of his formation, in other words that the combination of circumstances which we call environment, correspond exactly to the end proposed. (Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on Christian Education, Paragraph 70)
The Academy follows the disciplinary method of the great 19th century educator, St. John Bosco. As opposed to the “repressive” system prevailing in his time, Don Bosco prescribed the “preventive” system based on the three pillars of reason, religion, and kindness. Discipline erupting from anger and passion is inconsistent, arbitrary, and unfair; it confuses and embitters the child rather than correcting and instructing him. When reason dominates the teacher’s actions, discipline is measured and consistent, fair and constructive. The instructor not only requires right behavior in his students but demonstrates it in his own life.
Religion is the second element in Don Bosco’s method. By religion we put into practice the truths we know by faith. By religion we cultivate in ourselves humility, prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, honesty, purity, etc.—not only for the natural motive of a trouble-free life (as the pagan philosophers taught) but to fulfill the Great Commandments of God in obedience to Christ.
Kindness makes virtue attractive. It is the love of God expressed through us, His human creatures. It inspires the young in our care to follow the three admonitions of Don Bosco to his students: be cheerful, work hard, and obey the rules. The teacher expresses care for students by rejoicing with them in their prosperity and their strengths, comforting and encouraging them in adversity, and supporting them in their challenges and weaknesses. This requires the teacher’s steady vigilance for the students’ benefit.
This necessary vigilance does not demand that young people be removed from the society in which they must live and save their souls; but that today more than ever they should be forewarned and forearmed as Christians against the seductions and the errors of the world, which, as Holy Writ admonishes us, is all “concupiscence of the flesh, concupiscence of the eyes and pride of life.” [I John 2, 16]… (Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on Christian Education, Paragraph 92)
The formation of the will, or moral education, as envisioned by Saint John Bosco, is ultimately the formation of the conscience. The development of the human conscience demands patient supervision and persevering care through many years. Christ has commanded us to be vigilant. This vigilance for parents and teachers concerns not only themselves but also extends to the impressionable minds and promising souls of the young entrusted to their care.
The Vision of the Academy
Pope Pius XI dedicated himself to labor for “the Peace of Christ in the Reign of Christ—Pax Christi in Regno Christi!” The true Christian education of today’s youth is an essential aspect of securing peace by building the reign of Christ in this world. The education we provide young people today must help them secure peace for the generations to come.
The Catholic Church calls the education of young minds and hearts the “ars artium”—the greatest of all arts. It is to that greatest of all arts that Immaculate Conception Academy is dedicated. The saying is true:
“No one can change the past; only a few can influence the present; we all have great power to shape the future by educating today’s children—tomorrow’s leaders.”