Details of Thesis

TitleStones cry out: A Gospel imagination for Catholic school identity
Author Sultmann, William Francis
Institution Australian Catholic University
Date 2010
Abstract Catholic schooling within Australia is challenged to be responsive to internal and external change of significant and wide-ranging proportions. Through engaging this ‘new world’, the Church and the Catholic school will embrace their immediate and wider community and draw from a Tradition those constants which have offered meaning and development in earlier times. The process is one of dialogue and analysis in a context of openness to the Spirit of Christ as the Kingdom of God is pursued. The thesis examines the nature of Catholic school identity: the “constants that define Christianity in its missionary nature” (Bevans and Schroeder, 2004: 33)1, or similarly, ‘the worldview’; “what people, individually or collectively, know and believe, feel and value” (D’Orsa and D’Orsa, 2010: 72). The research is motivated by the significance of, and the challenges to, this identity and responds to the invitation from the Church to a new form of evangelization (EN: 14; AGD: 18; CSTTM: 2). The Scriptural metaphor of Christ as cornerstone (TCS: 33) is identified as foundational to identity which finds expression through the ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2: 4-6; 1 Corinthians 3:16) who metaphorically ‘cry out’ (Luke 19: 39–40) in support of a Gospel imagination for the contemporary Catholic school. The literature framework of the thesis establishes the significance of identity within the changing social and educational context of the Catholic school (Chapter 1); identifies the foundations in faith that shape this identity (Chapter 2); and discusses its expression within the history, mission and philosophy of Catholic schools in Australia (Chapter 3). Thereafter, the epistemological basis of the research is introduced (Chapter 4) and followed by three integrated experimental studies: an examination of focus group perceptions (Chapter 5), an analysis of Magisterial literature (Chapter 6) and a review of combined themes, inclusive of an internal validation of overall findings (Chapter 7). The general discussion of results in terms of a practical theological perspective is given in Chapter 8 with further elaboration of complementary pathways and horizons for spirituality in Chapter 9. Chapter 10 concludes with a reflection upon the school within a Church context, proposes a summary image for the Catholic school, critiques the process of the research and discusses the implications of findings. The first empirical study examines the responses of subjects (n = 73), via a focus group process, as to the core components of Catholic school identity. Leximancer analysis of their aggregated verbal data extracted four identity concepts: School, Students, Community and People. Thereafter, Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) enabled the extraction of themes within the discourse for each identity concept and summarized these with the assignment of an integrating principle. The identity concept of School was evident in expressions of tradition, integration and participation; the concept of Students through themes of individualization, religious dimension, holistic outcomes and pastoral care; Community through formation of a faith and model community; and People through the dignity of the person and the pervasiveness of values. The principles from the IPA that integrated themes within each identity concept were: School – shared sacred mission; Students – personal evangelization for life; Community – being and building a Christian community; and People – authentic witness. Findings revealed the uniqueness of Catholic school identity and an interaction among concepts, themes and principles. Clustering of the overall data led to an initial nomination of five identity pillars: Faith, Learning, Leadership, Formation and Community. The first empirical study was argued to be limited because of the absence of theoretical perspectives from which to validate and develop the conclusions. As a consequence a second study examined the propositions within four post-conciliar Magisterial statements on the Catholic school. As with earlier data, a Leximancer analysis extracted identity concepts within each Magisterial document, which, in turn, were subjected to IPA to generate thematic expressions and principles of integration. The collective pool of data from the Magisterial literature confirmed the validity of the nominated pillars from the first study and offered additional insight as to their overall nature and relationship. The integration of findings from the applied study (Chapter 5) and theoretical study (Chapter 6) are reported in Chapter 7. In addition, an internal validation of the pillars and core themes which emerged from qualitative processes in Chapters 5 and 6 is reported. Findings reinforced Catholic school identity as being represented comprehensively by the pillars of Faith, Learning, Community, Leadership and Formation, while selective sub-themes within each of the pillars accounted for 93% of the original narrative data. Thematic components for each identity pillar were listed and a summary definition provided on the identity of the Catholic school arising from the research. The examination of results precipitated a discussion of the dynamism of the pillars, their comparability across sources and the nature of their interdependence. An ecological model, illustrative of their relationships and integration was presented. The theological nature of Catholic school identity is developed in Chapter 8. The pillar of Faith is explored through a discussion of a shared meaning system centred on Christ, the school as integral to the mission of Church, and evangelization as being personally, socially and culturally transforming. The pillar of Learning is elucidated by the centrality of learning and teaching, the context of relationships and the religious dimension of the school. The pillar of Community is developed in terms of the Church as communion, authentic relationship principles, and systems of management and governance. The fourth pillar of Leadership expands upon authenticity as Christian praxis, service and communion as core principles, and dimensions of focus. Finally, the discussion of Formation emphasized the model of Christ, the importance and clarity as to purpose and process, and the concept of faith journey. The discussion of the interdependence of the pillars was developed through the cornerstone of the ‘Living Word’. The integrated expression of the living stones with the Cornerstone was pursued through three principles: alignment – through a kingdom vision; empowerment – through life in the Spirit; and engagement –through the practise of presence supported by mysticism and detachment. Chapter 9 expands on the pillars of identity in terms of their implications for spirituality. Spirituality is identified as a call to holiness across the wholeness of life with spiritual practices of sacramental consciousness and sacramental celebration offering the means for continuing engagement in the life of the Spirit. Moreover, particular spiritual pathways and horizons were developed from the directions of the research and identified as complementary to the strategic pillars of identity. The nomination of spiritual pathways included: being called to a liberating mission (Faith); ministering a holistic and meaningful curriculum (Learning); celebrating a Religious Tradition (Community); releasing the Spirit in organizational life (Leadership) and engaging in continuous renewal (Formation). ‘Sacred Witness’ was identified as the overall integrating principle underpinning the spiritual pathways. Chapter 10 integrates and summarizes the discussion of the theology and spirituality of Catholic school identity. The essence of identity is proposed as incorporating a Gospel imagination and developed within the challenge of the new evangelization through an elaboration of the cornerstone metaphor; summarizing the scope, nature and dynamism of this identity; proposing an image of the school as sacramental in nature; and advancing personal conversion and school renewal. The limitations of the data are discussed and a summary position is offered as to the Catholic school constituting a place of blessing where the life-giving nature of the Spirit inspires the living stones to ‘cry out’ in support of the Cornerstone.
Thesis 01front.pdf 145 Kb
02whole.pdf 1,320 Kb

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