Blog Post: Christopher Mominey, Chief Operating Officer and Secretary for Catholic Education: “Address to Educators in The Archdiocese of Philadelphia”

Tuesday, November 4th


Our Mission, Our Vision, Our Virtues

On this eve of All Saints Day I wish to greet you in the style one of our Church’s beloved saints, Francis of Assisi.  So repeat after me.  Buongiorno buonegente!  Buongiorno buone gente.  Good morning good people.  Good morning good people!

You are good people and your goodness permeates the halls of our Catholic schools every single day.  It is your goodness, your commitment and your selfless dedication to our mission that animates the Gospel message of Jesus Christ in the presence of almost 60,000 young people each day.  And for this goodness, for this dedication I express to you first this morning my most heartfelt gratitude.  I cannot say it enough, I cannot thank you enough for living out the vocation to which you have been called.  Yours is the work that matters most!  And I quote from the Archbishop himself: “Our teachers and catechists remain the most influential models of Christian living our students encounter outside of the family.”  So please know how thankful he and I both are that you have chosen to minister with us in this most awesome mission of Catholic schools.

So why are we here today?  What brings us together under one roof for the first time under this Archbishop and under this Secretary for Education? What makes today different than other gatherings that have taken place here?

Consider this story:

Once upon a time a very strong woodcutter asked for a job from a timber merchant, and he got it. The pay was fantastic and so were the work conditions. For that reason, the woodcutter was determined to do his best.

His boss gave him an axe and showed him the area where he was supposed to work.  The first day, the woodcutter brought 18 trees in.

“Congratulations,” the boss said. “Now, go on that way!”

Very motivated for the boss’ words, the woodcutter tried harder the next day, but he only could bring in 15 trees.

The third day he try even harder, but he only could bring in10 trees.

Day after day he was bringing less and less trees.

“I must be losing my strength”, the woodcutter thought.

He went to the boss and apologized, saying that he could not understand what was going on.

“When was the last time you sharpened your axe?” the boss asked.

“Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my axe. I have been very busy trying to cut trees…”

Perhaps that’s why we are here today: to sharpen our axe!  To step away from the work that we do each day and to embrace a moment of prayer, a moment of clarity of vision, and a moment of education for our hearts and minds.  Are we not here today to practice that which we expect of our own students each day: to learn?  And that is in fact what we do and who we are.  You see my expectations for you as a teacher in this great archdiocese is simple: I don’t expect you to teach every day, I expect that you make sure they learn every day.  And isn’t there a big distinction there?  Doesn’t everyone always ask you, so how long have you been teaching?  The better question is: how long have students been learning from you?  It’s no secret that the classroom of the 21st century should and must be a student-centered classroom where the teacher, the one whom facilitates learning, acts much more as the guide on side and not as the sage on the stage.  It’s no secret that learning is our end goal for our students.  But it’s also no secret that our educational venture, namely a Catholic one, has much more in mind.  We have even greater aspirations as Catholic school teachers and administrators.  And so what I propose to you today is that we are united in one common core purpose:

We equip saints for life in this world and the next!  This is our core purpose. This is why we exist.  This is what unites as one organization serving this Archdiocese in the mission of the Gospel.

How appropriate is it then that on this Eve of All Saints day we reflect on our core purpose.  If then we are called to equip saints, what is required of us?  And I mean all of us.  What is required of us as an Office for Catholic Education?  What is required of us as an elementary school in the suburbs, in the city?  What is required of us as high school educators and educators in schools of special education?

First, quoting from our own Archbishop I remind us all that “No Catholic teacher can form her students in moral character without a passion herself for the Gospel, a zeal for Jesus Christ, and a confidence in the truth of the Church and Catholic teaching.  No Catholic educator can give to others what he doesn’t have himself.  If we ourselves don’t believe, then we can only share our unbelief.”

And so if we equip saints, if what they learn is much more important than what we teach, then what is required of us is to be a witness of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  What habits, what attitudes, beliefs and expectations must be present in our midst?  What will this look like?  How is the Office of Catholic Education, how are the elementary schools, how are the high schools and schools of special education, how are we all going to equip saints?  Well, we are going to do it by marinating our entire culture under a common set of virtues that will serve as our foundational virtues for years to come.  You see, in many respects I have the easiest job in the room.  You have already designed the strategies for success.  You have already come up with the creative ideas.  And the Good Lord knows we have enough binders with strategic planning documents to last us a lifetime. But my job is not to bring good ideas and new strategies.  My job for you as a servant leader is to create a culture and an organizational mindset that is receptive to your good ideas.  My job is to create a new culture within the office of Catholic education and across all of our ministries.  A culture that expects growth and change.  A culture that welcomes new ideas and option thinking.  A culture that allows all of our strategies to take root and flourish because we have adopted a new mindset of growth over decline.  And so these foundational virtues of which I will now speak, will not only help us to equip saints, but they will guide all that we do from operations to financial affairs, from classrooms to athletic fields, and from hiring practices to teacher and administrator performance assessment tools.  Such virtues will not only draw us closer together in our common mission, but will serve as our guiding principles for the awesome tasks before us.

We begin with a simple one: RESPECT.  My pledge to you from the Office of Catholic Education is that we recognize each and every one of you as valued members of this Archdiocese.  We are committed to listening to you, dialoguing with you and gaining from you knowledge and insight on the things that matter most.  Our office wishes to be a direct conduit to you, a resource for you and a place that earns respect not by the way we help you manage to survive but by the way we empower you to grow.  Moreover, we take seriously our responsibility to be excellent stewards of our facilities and our finances.  And we expect you to do the same.  Respect is the way that we treat our students and our parents as challenging as that might be.  Respect is the way we listen to one another and approach one another with reverence and solidarity.  It is the very way in which we affirm one another in our successes and challenge one another in our shortcomings.

And so from that logically flows our need for INTEGRITY, our second organizational virtue.  At the heart of our mission as servants of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is our continued need for the daily demonstration of honesty and professionalism.  This is Philadelphia.  This is the birthplace of parochial education in the United States.  This is where saints have already walked and where they in turn have passed on to us the responsibility of equipping new ones. For the founder of these schools himself, Saint John Nuemann, the idea was simple.  He himself wrote: We exhort the pastors, religious and teachers and all who have at heart the best interest of youth, to spare no efforts to ensure success.  Whatever difficulties may at first attend, and even obstruct this most desirable undertaking, will be gradually overcome by mutual good will, honesty and cooperation.  [1]

Make no mistake about it, John Neumann spoke about credibility and integrity long before it was fashionable to do so.  And I commit to you today that we are building an Office of Catholic Education that will not only earn your respect but one that will regain its credibility with you as we change the very way we do business.  The culture within OCE is changing every single day.  We are listening to your needs in the field, adapting our structures to be of service to our schools, and, above all aspiring to be servant leaders who, when we are at our very best, guide you in building up our common mission.  We do not wish to be an office that is really good at closing schools.  We do not wish to be an office that sets up roadblocks for your innovative thinking.  And we do not wish to be an office that is the place where all good ideas go to die.  We are building an all star lineup in our office.  One of professionals, filled with integrity, that will serve us well in our future.  And we expect the same of you.  If this is a common virtue, integrity, then it’s even more important that you, our front line evangelists, create an environment of professionalism and honesty.  You do this well already.  But to whom much is given, much is expected.

Our third virtue in this audacious purpose of equipping saints is one that I have spoken of many times: ENTHUSIASM.  The Greek root of this summarizes it so simply:  EN THEOS.  God within.  If we do not approach our ministry with enthusiasm then it’s time to move on to a new chapter in our lives.  The day we lose enthusiasm is the day we have stayed too long. If we do not approach our students, our parents, yes even our pastors, with enthusiasm every single day then it’s time to move on.  If we do not possess the same enthusiasm today that we had on our first day of teaching then we must work to rekindle that life of God within.  God’s life within is never changes so enthusiasm is always there.  It is we who must find it, animate it, live it, and embrace it every day that we step foot into that school, that office, that Pastoral Center at the 2’s.  No one in this room will be exempt from actively living out the God within.  No one in this room will be exempt from being an enthusiastic witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ.  As Archbishop Chaput has written, “Witnessing to the life of God in our own hearts inspires those around us to do the same.  Thus, we do not ask our teachers to simply “enjoy” what they do but instead to live honestly and visibly as disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Why?  Why must this be our mandate to be so enthusiastic, to animate the life of God within? Simply put: because there is way too much at stake!

Consider this story:

A young man who had been raised an atheist was training to be an Olympic diver.  The only religious influence in his life came from his very outspoken, very religious Christian friend.  The young diver never really paid much attention to his friend or the many lectures that he gave about becoming a Christian – but he did hear them.

One night the diver went to the indoor pool at the college he attended.  The lights were all off but as the pool had big skylights and the moon was bright, there was plenty of light to practice by.  So the young man climbed up to the highest diving board and extended his arms out and saw his shadow on the wall.  The shadow of his body, was in the shape of a cross.  Instead of diving, the young atheist knelt down, right there on the board, and finally asked God to come into his life and for Jesus to enter his heart.

As the young man stood, a maintenance man walked into the facility and turned the lights on.  The pool had been drained for repairs.

As teachers and Catholic school leaders we know neither the time nor the place when our message will take hold in the hearts of the young people that we have the privilege of encountering each day.  Our task is not to convert them.  Rather our task is to introduce them to the person of Jesus Christ so that someday when the Lord does come knocking on their door they don’t open that door and say “Who are you.”  We plant seeds and sometimes we never see the fruits of our labor.  Like the young man on the diving board, we do not know when the Lord will choose to so obviously enter their lives.  What we do know however, is that God is calling us as teachers to be enthusiastic instruments of his love so that in our schools, in our study halls and yes, even on our athletic fields we are giving them a glimpse into the face of Christ, a glimpse into the God with in us.  EN THEOS

Next, we come to our virtue of COLLABORATION.  In Latin Cum laborare:  simply put, working together. We commit to you today, and I hope you have seen this evidenced in my first year with you here in Philadelphia, we commit to you a new spirit of seamlessly working together to achieve our shared goals.  It is my unwaivering belief that no leader, no organization, no bishop or archbishop, no Church in the 21st century will survive its mission without a commitment to collaboration.  As I have traveled around these 5 counties over the past 15 months I have come to realize this: if you’ve seen one school in this Archdiocese,  then you’ve seen one school in this Archdiocese.  If you’ve met one pastor, then you’ve met one pastor.  And so while I say this with some sense of irony, I do believe that it calls our office to a greater need for what I would call differentiated leadership.  Differentiated leadership requires that we recognize a simple truth: those whom we lead have many different needs at many different levels.  Principals should see this.  Presidents should see this.  And certainly your Office for Catholic Education should see this. You see, there is no cookie cutter answer to the challenges facing us.  There is no magic bullet to “save” Catholic education.  No one has THE RIGHT ANSWER: not me, not the Archbishop, not the IMS schools, not the regional schools, not the parish schools, not Faith in the Future and not BLOCS.  Instead what we have been handed to us at this moment in time is a series of creative, viable solutions whose point of intersection, in the Office of Catholic Education, demands leadership that has the capacity and the talent to respond to the most important needs of the field.  Collaboration then is not only necessary, it is the place where we will succeed or fail.  For if we do not aspire to work seamlessly in concert with one another for our common purpose of equipping saints, we will squander the opportunity we have right here and right now in this historic Archdiocese.  We will squander the partnerships that the Archbishop and his predecessors have forged with our partners like IMS, BLOCS, the Maquires, the Connelleys, and Faith in the Future.  We will squander the opportunity to not only change our story, but we will fail in our mission to best serve the young people entrusted to our care.  And failing our young people is not an option.

You’ve heard it so many times already across this educational venture but we must insist on INNOVATION and claim it as a virtue for our work. Because we are in the business of education we must continually leverage information, imagination and initiative from not only our kids, but from one another.  We expect you as our teachers and administrators to be people of creativity and innovation.  People who as co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord challenge one another to imagine new ways of teaching and learning, new ways of inspiring young people to embrace their education with zeal and passion.  For our part, we are committed in the Office of Catholic Education to create a culture that is nimble, adaptive and strategic.  Nimble, adaptive and strategic.  This is what you should expect of me and my team.  And it’s what we will expect of our schools.  We expect to have you understand the need for option-thinking and to discover new solutions to old problems.  Believe me when I say, this is not the Archdiocese that will replicate best practices.  This is the Archdiocese that will create them.

And finally we come to EXCELLENCE. By this we mean that in all that we say and do, we will be aspiring to reach our fullest God-given potential, Mind, Body and Spirit.  You know sociologists and psychologists tell us that the average human being only uses between 5-10% of their potential?  So is there room for growth, room to expand our excellence?  You bet there is!  We are excellent schools, no doubt about it.  The performance data supports it.  But remember, we’re equipping saints for life in this world AND the next.  All that we do, all that we say, all that we are must be done in the pursuit of excellence.  Our kids will continue to perform well, the graduating seniors will still get all of their scholarship offers, and our athletic teams will continue to excel.  But will any of that really matter in the end? If we were public schools or we were charter schools then yes, that would be the measure of our success.  But Catholic schools are not just schools, we are centers of evangelization where excellence should not just be seen on report cards and progress reports, but on hearts and in souls.  Is everything we do pointing to excellence?  Are the decisions we make, the actions we take and the words that we speak reflective of excellence? Does what we do and who we are inspire our students to become the person God created them to be?  Anything less cheats our students of the their dignity.  So when you hear us speak of excellence in this organization shy away from hearing only about SAT scores and Terra Nova scores (although we will be expecting excellence their too).  But rather think of the potential of the students in front of you.  Think of yourself as the steward of God’s handy work and let us never, ever, any of us including me, expect that child to receive less than our absolute best.

And so my friends, it’s that simple: We equip saints for life in this world and the next.  That is our core purpose.  We animate this core purpose in the context of six common virtues: respect, integrity, enthusiasm, collaboration, innovation and enthusiasm.  And it is expected that our behaviors will reflect those virtues in our work no matter what our role in this mission.  In the end, by staying focused on our core purpose and by living out our virtues we will obtain our vision for this great Archdiocese: NAMELY

Responding to God’s call we are the world’s premiere center for the teaching mission of the Church.

I wish to close with one final story of a young man studying oversees in college.  As a student of theology this young man was passionate about his faith and convinced that he had all of the right answers.  He admitted that he was more than liberal in his interpretation of Church teaching, and his greatest ambition was to change the Church for the better.  One day, during a holiday break, the college student boarded a train from Rome to the town of Assisi, the home of Saint Francis himself.  On that train the young man sat with a gentleman in his mid 40’s and the two engaged in a heated discussion around theology and the future of the Church.  In short, these two did not see eye to eye.  Eager to continue the discussion the man introduced himself to the college student and said: I’m Charlie.  Would you like to continue our conversation over dinner tonight.  And that they did. But as Charlie approached the restaurant that night, the college student noticed that Charlie was dressed as a bishop!  Good evening, Charlie, the young man said.  Has Halloween come early?  Oh, said Charlie…did I not mention on the train that I am the Bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota? No, no you did not mention that on the train when I was challenging the teachings of the Church, said the slightly embarrassed kid.

That young college student was me.  And that young bishop was Charles Chaput.  A bit ironic wouldn’t you say?  Or, as the bishop himself taught me that day, a bit of providence designed by God for the betterment of the divine plan. And I can assure you, that kid on the train still has high ambitions of changing the Church for the better.  You see, we are preparing our kids for a life that they have not even begun to imagine.  We have no idea where they will go or with whom they will interact.  We can’t predict their future.  But what we can do is to inspire them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ by what we say and by what we do so that no matter where they go or who they meet, they will be open to the work of God in their lives.  There is no greater vocation than that of teacher because in the end Catholic schools exist for only two purposes: transcendence and success.  That is why, as teachers, we must be united in our core purpose: We equip saints for this world and the next.  Let this be our common aspiration as a leadership team, as administrators, and as teachers.  I recommit to you today that you can count on the Secretariat to be a place of support, a source of imagination, and a haven for option thinking.  And I count on all of you to make your schools true centers of evangelization for our young and aspiring saints.  Make them places of love and service.  Make them places of innovation and excellence.  But above all I count on you to continue to make them places where they come to know, love and serve the person of Jesus Christ.  Thank you for all that you do and thank you for all that you are.  May God bless the work of our hands!!!

[1] Pastoral Letter to the Clergy and Faithful of the Diocese of Philadelphia, April 11, 1852. Bishop John Nepomucene.