Raising the bar in Catholic School Leadership - Seminar with Dr Ron Nuzzi

On Friday January 27th CEIST was joined by ERST in hosting a national seminar under the title: ‘Raising the bar in Catholic School Leadership’ presented by Dr Ron Nuzzi of Notre Dame University in Indiana. The event took place at Renehan Hall, Maynooth College and more that ninety Chairpersons, Principals, Deputies and other interested parties turned up for what was an exciting presentation by one of the great personalities in Catholic Education in the USA.











Pictured above (LtoR) at the Seminar were CEIST Members, Sean McCann, Sr. Margaret Buckley, Sr. Catherine Prendergast, Sr. Elizabeth Maxwell, Sr. Peggy Collins and CEIST CEO Anne Kelleher.

What was most rewarding was the clarity Dr. Nuzzi brought to the question of what characterises Catholic School leadership as we move forward into a time when our schools will be more differentiated by their contrast to what other schools have to offer. Dr Nuzzi made it clear that the unique Catholic content of what we do comes from theology rather than pedagogy, from what is Catholic about the Church rather than what is Catholic about teaching. He said that what makes our schools compellingly Catholic relates to how we tap into the great mysteries of our Faith, Incarnation, Trinity, Paschal Mystery and Eucharist. His advice to the leaders present was: know how your life articulates these four mysteries, the ‘then’ and ‘now’ of them, and the way they relate to your leadership and personal holiness.

Incarnation meant ultimately that what humanizes divinizes, that school is a place of ongoing incarnation and, that properly understood, there are no secular subjects in a Catholic school.

The mystery of God as Trinity underlined the theological foundation of community, in that ‘relationship echoes the divine’ and the primacy of relationship is a theological matter rather than a tactical social construct. ‘Any glimpse of perfect relationship is always a glimpse of God’, Dr. Nuzzi said. ‘God’, he said, ‘loves tribes’.

The Paschal Mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection tells us that death is the doorway to something new and because we are baptised into Christ’s death and resurrection this mystery speaks to all the little deaths and resurrections that take place in our schools and in our lives. There is, he said, something in every moment, every life and every school that needs to die so that the new can come to life. He said he could not imagine how any person or school could cope with tragedy without reference to the Paschal Mystery at the centre of our faith.

Finally he spoke of the central mystery of our faith, the Eucharist. This, he said, is where people of communion (Trinity) gather to retell the story of the Paschal Mystery (Christ’s dying and rising) in a way that makes Jesus present again (Incarnation). In the Eucharist he said, all the mysteries are ritualised into one in what is the source and summit of the Christian life, the central way we pray. This is why the Church insists that at least once a week we reconnect in Eucharist to the central mysteries of our faith and why Eucharist is the most important thing any Catholic faith community, including a school, can do.

Catholic school ethos, he went on, relies on its leaders to announce the great mysteries, to show them in lived life and to cultivate a teaching staff which does the same. This expectation does not relate to a leadership competency which is one of a series of competencies but is the one central competency required in the leadership of a Catholic school. Academic excellence, he went on to say, is a means to an end, part of the incarnation value that what humanisation divinizes, but not a gospel value in itself. Nowhere does it say in the Gospel that Jesus was the smartest Jew or that he included among the beatitudes: Blessed are you when you are smarter than the gentiles.

Dr. Nuzzi ended his talk with a photograph from St. Peter’s Square showing a large banner in Italian which read: ‘Spalancate le porte a Crosto’ which he explained, is translated as ‘open the door for Christ.’ But the meaning of ‘spalancate’ relates more to bursting a door open rather than opening it gently and that, he said, was the spirit in which we should go forward in leading Catholic schools.

When questioned afterwards as to how you moderate this message to a school staff, Dr. Nuzzi said you must begin in community, remembering that fire is contagious, and remembering also that community needs to be supported by a Catholic liturgical and sacramental life. The ideal we aim for is a faith filled inspired community.

When challenged about Catholic schools that cater for the better-off in society Dr Nuzzi replied that the rich often have a greater need for the Gospel. The poor, he said, often ‘get it’ easier.

He ended with a lovely quote from Teresa of Avila very appropriate to a Catholic school: ‘What you are is God’s gift to you. Who you become is your gift to God.’ 

Seminar Photos