What are the 5 principles of Catholic Education?

jonathan doyle catholic speaker


Catholic schools are deeply driven by core principles that shape every aspect of their Catholic identity. From it’s sacramental life to the intellectual development of each student and their religious formation a Catholic school is a special school community where the Catholic faith, Catholic tradition and a deep focus on the person of Jesus Christ help to shape a Christian way of life amid the challenges of contemporary culture.

A Catholic worldview is what shapes the essential marks of a Catholic school. Based within the broader mission of the Catholic Church a Catholic school has a supernatural vision of the human person and human life where Catholic educators seek to integrate faith in their formation of the whole child. The essential marks of an authentically Catholic educational community are derived from elements such as the life and revelation of Jesus Christ, the Holy See’s teaching, core Church documents released by the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education and the living presence of the Holy Spirit.

catholic education sacraments

Principle 1: Inspired by Divine Mission

In its essence, Catholic Education and all Catholic schools are an expression of the one single mission of the Catholic Church. This mission has a deeply religious dimension focused upon human dignity and the gift of eternal life offered to human beings by Jesus Christ. Each Catholic school derives its Catholic identity from its Gospel witness and from responsible participation in the wider mission of the Catholic Church. As Pope Paul VI stated in his encyclical document Evangelii Nuntiandi, “The Catholic Church does not have a mission. She is a mission!”

Jesus Christ is the foundation of all Catholic Education and all authentically Catholic education and religious education is grounded in Him alone. The Catholic identity of each school is based in His teaching and the Gospel witness of His life, death and resurrection.

Pope St. John Paul II stated:

In order that the Catholic school and Catholic teachers may truly make their irreplaceable contribution to the Church and to the world, the goal of Catholic education itself must be crystal clear. Beloved sons and daughters of the Catholic Church, brothers and sisters in the faith: Catholic education is above all a question of communicating Christ, of helping to form Christ in the lives of others.”

Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News. 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.’

In Catholic schools each human person is called to witness to the role of Christ in their lives. This includes Catholic educators, students and parents as they seek to integrate faith into a warm and intimate atmosphere where Catholic tradition, Catholic identity and and a uniquely Catholic worldview are brought together in a form of integral formation unique to the Christian school climate.

catholic education mission
The mission of Catholic education is embedded in the mission of the entire Church.

Principle 2: Models Christian Communion and Identity

The Catholic school aims to be a place which models genuine Christian community and a deep sense of each human beings ability to find their identity in Christ. This Christian vision is made explicit via each Catholic schools religious education program but also through the daily witness of practicing Catholics where the Catholic perspective on what it means to be a human person is made real and tangible. It is an essential Catholic teaching that human beings do not only grow in faith on their own but also through community and deep relationships.

The community aspect of Catholic schools is truly a partnership between the Church, the school community and family life. Working with parents who hold primary responsibility for the faith development of their children, Catholic educators in both Catholic elementary and secondary schools provide students with unique opportunities for the faith formation of the whole child grounded in Sacred Scripture and Catholic teaching. The community and relational aspect of each Catholic school helps students in overcoming individualistic self promotion which can be so prevalent in modern culture. It gives students a supernatural vision rooted in Catholic tradition of the value and dignity of every human person and the value of his or her life.

Rather than being an autonomous or individualistic entity, the Catholic school broadens the concept of community and identity by finding its place within the wider Church. Numerous recent popes such as Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have constantly communicated the unique role of the Catholic school within the wider community of the Church. The religious dimension of each Catholic educational community is embedded in the wider global mission and identity of the Catholic faith. This shared Catholic faith is what builds up the entire Church and is based upon the apostolic goals of evangelization given to the first followers of Jesus.

jonathan doyle catholic education speaker

Principle 3: Encounters Christ in Prayer, Scripture & Sacrament

Each Catholic school is a place where prayer, Sacred Scripture and a rich liturgical and sacramental life are central. In essence, a Catholic school is a place of prayer and worship as well as a place of religious education. It is a school of faith and a place where Catholic teaching is made effectively present in the sacramental life that helps to define the school’s catholic identity. By promoting the importance, beauty and value of scripture and sacrament the Catholic school achieves something truly unique, a synthesis of faith and life, of what is taught and of what is practiced. It is this unique education, transmitted to students by each Catholic educator and also by consecrated persons who may be members of the school, that can do so much to help students live out the moral demands of the Christian life. This can include a love for God’s creation and also for human rights and human dignity as they increasingly come to understand and value the religious dimension of life.

Catholic schools are uniquely positioned to offer students the opportunity to deepen in their knowledge of prayer, scripture and sacrament as many students may not be active members of a local Catholic parish. As such, their religious education may be limited. In these cases, Catholic schools can truly live out their missionary identity. Each day Catholic schooling helps millions of students around the world to encounter the supernatural and divine through a Catholic perspective on the importance of prayer, of the Word of God and the sacramental nature of reality.

While religious education is of crucial importance in all Catholic schools, it is in the experiences of prayer, scripture and sacrament that faith in Christ is transmitted in living encounters. Education in faith goes beyond the purely rational. God’s creation is a physical reality. The sacramental nature of the school is a core aspect of its Catholic identity and is a participation in the living presence of God where the Holy Spirit makes effectively present the grace that is essential to human dignity and the true flourishing of the human person.

catholic education scripture
Scripture is essential to authentic Catholic education.

Principle 4: Integrally Forms the Human Person

Church documents, such as those promulgated by the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, make specific and frequent reference to the concept of integral formation. Human beings, from a Catholic perspective, are a unity of body and soul. This elevates the value of religious education because Catholic schools are able to offer a rich vision of what it means to be human. It is a Christian way of seeing the person where spiritual, physical and intellectual aspects are integrated into a more comprehensive and compelling sense of human life and the religious dimension of existence. 

Archbishop Michael Miller makes reference to this when he states:

Catholic education is "intentionally directed to the growth of the whole person." An integral education aims to develop gradually every capability of every student: his or her intellectual, physical, psychological, moral, and religious capacities. Vatican documents speak of an education that responds to all the needs of the human person:

Catholic schools are places where integral formation is truly seen as valuing the full person in the unity of their body and soul. The Congregation for Catholic Education offers a helpful insight:

The Catholic school, characterized mainly as an educating community, is a school for the person and of persons. In fact, it aims at forming the person in the integral unity of his being, using the tools of teaching and learning...

Much of modern education is based in a fractured understanding of human dignity where the spiritual dimension of the human person is ignored completely or demoted as being of less importance than the purely physical or psychological. Catholic schooling offers something very different. Catholic teaching with its deep focus upon the religious dimension of existence insists upon the value of the body along with the value of the emotional, spiritual, intellectual and psychological aspects of human life. This richer anthropology, grounded in faith provides students with a more robust, inspiring and hopeful view of reality and of the preciousness of his or her life. This deeper religious education can also help students understand the rich Catholic tradition of human rights advocacy. This attitude toward the person, grounded in Sacred Scripture and communicated by a committed Catholic educator can do a great deal to create a greater sense of solidarity and human community in the modern world.

A further aspect of integral formation is the way in which Catholic schools with their supernatural vision of intellectual development and the moral demands of the Christian life can help students to develop their conscience and to grow in virtue. Pope John Paul II stated:

...the Church never tires of upholding the essential moral categories of right and wrong, without which hope could only wither, giving way to cold pragmatic calculations of utility which render the person little more than a pawn on some ideological chess-board.’

This deeper view of the human capacity to become a truly moral agent is essential to a Catholic worldview. It is based in the belief that the creation of the human person in the image and likeness of God can allow them to develop their conscience and capacity for a virtuous life, with the help of grace, as they face the concrete decisions and realities of daily life. It is another of the essential marks of Catholic schools that such a value is placed upon the formation of conscience and growth in virtue.

the human person and catholic education

Principle 5: Imparts a Christian Understanding of the World

A related aspect of the concept of integral formation is the way in which Catholic education can help to integrate culture and history into a Christian understanding of the world. The religious dimension that defines the religious education program of each Catholic school is a vision of culture and history that seeks to integrate them into a Christian vision of reality. Archbishop Michael Miller is again helpful at this point when he states:

If a Catholic school is to deliver on its promise to provide students with an integral education, it must foster love for wisdom and truth, and must integrate faith, culture, and life. 

It is this integration of faith, culture and life that is essential. This task of the educational community helps students to understand that faith in Christ is not some category of reality that is hermetically sealed off from our very human experiences of life, culture and history. Contemporary culture often sees history through lenses such as the class struggle as exemplified in the writings of Karl Marx or the result of purely economic, demographic or even environmental forces. In contrast, the Catholic tradition sees human culture and history as intimately related to the very human and spiritual struggles of individual human persons.

Finally, Catholic education also helps to develop this wider vision of reality by seeking to effectively prepare students for professional life and societal responsibilities. Responsible participation in economic and civic life is central to Catholic education and a way in which both Catholic elementary schools and secondary schools make a crucial and valuable contribution to the common good. It would be a failure of the noble duty of Catholic education if it were to focus purely upon religious education while ignoring the important ways that they school community, following the clear encouragement of numerous Church documents, can help students flourish in the future as they pursue their own unique vocational and professional callings.

catholic education prayer
Prayer informs the worldview of students and teachers in Catholic education.


Catholic Education is truly a unique blessing for the world. It is a profound cooperation between the Catholic educator, the student and their family in which a deep and rich vision of life and the value and dignity of every human person is made manifest. Catholic Education is rooted and established in the person of Jesus and the witness of his teaching and of his life, death and resurrection.

The mission of Catholic education exists only within the divinely established mission of the wider Catholic Church. That mission is to help young people and their families to become disciples of Christ, to follow his example, to imitate His life in realities, demands and responsibilities of their daily lives.

Catholic Education is also a place of community and identity. It is a place where young people, Catholic educators and their families journey upon the road of life together on the way home to the house of their Father in heaven. It is a place of community because it is a place of shared endeavour. It is a place of living together the challenges and demands of the Gospel. It is a place of identity because each member of the community finds their identity within their own unique baptismal membership in the life of the whole Church. It is also a place of identity because it is a place where each member seeks to know Christ and to become more like Him. In essence, Catholic education seeks to make the person of Jesus take on a life within the the spirit and character of each person in the school.

Catholic education is a place of prayer, scripture and sacrament. In a world that has frequently lost all sense of the transcendent, holy or supernatural, Catholic education offers a deep immersion in a vastly more expansive vision of reality. Catholic education is a place where young people are given daily opportunities for prayer, for silence for liturgy and sacrament. It is a place where the riches of scripture become a central part of the moral and spiritual vision of the school itself.

Catholic education is a place of deep human formation. It is a place where the all the distinct attributes of each student are valued and engaged. The spiritual, the physical and the intellectual gifts of every student are precious in authentic Catholic education and each Catholic educator seeks to play their part in the integral development of every young person’s unique human dignity and potential.

Finally, Catholic education offers an integrated vision of the world, of human culture and of history. It is a place where the Christian vision of reality shapes the its members understanding of the world and their place in it. Catholic education is a divinely inspired gift for the world. It is a place where the human and the divine elements of existence are engaged, elevated and celebrated. Catholic education is a reality of hope and communion. It is a community of possibility and light in a troubled and restless world.

Additional Resources

Tools and Fuels Book by Jonathan Doyle is available here

Sacred Congregation On Catholic Education here 

Archbishop Michael Miller here

More resources for Catholic teachers and Catholic schools here 

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Jonathan Doyle


I’m on a mission to liberate the potential of the incredible people that make up your organisation, school, or business.

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