The evolution of the philosophy of Catholic schools: An analysis of recent church documents, 1929-1990

Anthony Raymond Densley, Fordham University


Between 1929 and 1990 the Catholic Church issued a number of authoritative documents on Catholic schools and Catholic education. These documents were issued in a time of great social change in the United States of America and Australia. The documents show evidence for accommodation to social changes in that time. Sociologist Robert Bellah's theory of the evolution of religion is used as a framework to examine changes in the documents recommendations over the sixty year period. Examination of five major themes from the documents gives support to the evolutionary hypothesis. The themes are those of authority, purpose, experience, moral education and attitude to the world. Church authority has more clearly recognized the principle of subsidiarity and acknowledged the authority of educational expertise. The purpose of education is now seen more immediately as concerned with this world, while still acknowledging the importance of supernatural goals. The Church's educational documents are now more sensitive to the value of the student's experience. The documents illustrate tensions in the area of moral education particularly in the area of sexuality. The documents support and encourage Catholic schools to develop attitudes of dialogue and solidarity with the world outside the Church and Catholic school. The Church documents apply to Catholic schools the evolution in self-understanding that the Catholic Church has experienced in the last sixty years. The documents endeavor to apply the insights of advances in theology and education to Catholic school philosophy. The documents are at times ambiguous and show the result of the compromises made in their writing. There are indications of a definite movement into the modern world by the Church in its advice to schools. There are further indications that this transition has not ended as the Catholic Church continues to confront the contemporary world. The study indicates directions in educational philosophy for Catholic school administrators as they look to the future of Catholic schools in Australia and the United States of America.

Subject Area

Educational theory|Religion|Philosophy|School administration|Religious education

Recommended Citation

Densley, Anthony Raymond, "The evolution of the philosophy of Catholic schools: An analysis of recent church documents, 1929-1990" (1990). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9109229.