“Ask a Priest: Could a Catholic Teacher Evangelize in a Public School?”

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Q: I’m studying to be a literature teacher in a public high school. I considered becoming a teacher in a Catholic high school, for I feel totally alien to our current culture and values. In university I discovered how the anti-Christian mentality is being imposed by culture and how it comes to high schools with the excuse of promoting equality and tolerance. Thinking about my being forced to promote gender ideology or atheism at school is something that disgusts me. But being a Catholic teacher in a public school allows me to be different, like a soldier infiltrating in enemy land. The question is: How can I feel cool with living in that atmosphere every day? What can I do to evangelize? – Y.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your willingness to take on the secular culture is admirable.

It’s also a daunting challenge that requires prudence as well as daring. It will be very hard to be an undercover agent for Christ in a public school, but if God is calling you (you have to discern this in your heart) to do so, he will make it fruitful and give you the strength and wisdom you need.

On the prudential side it might be good to ask yourself a few questions.

First, realistically, how much will you be able to change a public school? Presumably you might be required to use certain books in the curriculum that aren’t optional — books that might transmit a lot of anti-Christian values. There might even be racy books that are occasions of sin for teenagers. Would you be comfortable assigning and teaching those books?

Moreover, how much leeway will you have to offer a Christian/Catholic perspective on literature? True, Christian values can have wide appeal; they are based on a sound anthropology, after all. Yet anything that sounds like a religious take might go against established rules and laws. This isn’t meant as a defense of these laws. It’s just that legally the deck might be stacked against you.

Another question deals with something that economists call opportunity costs. That is, if you decide to teach at a public school, you would be giving up the chance to teach a more-receptive audience in a Christian/Catholic school. You could spend your life trying to fight a public school system that won’t budge, while giving up the chance to form a generation of young Catholics who will carry on the faith.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t take on the anti-Christian culture around us. Evangelization requires stamina. For ideas on how to evangelize, you might want to read Go! 30 Meditations on How Best to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself. You could go through those meditations each day for a month, asking God for light about what decision to make, and see where your heart is drawn.

You might keep in mind other ways to challenge the secular culture. A pro-Christian blog about literature could be a resource for others and help readers engage in healthy dialogue with the culture around them. You could do the blog in your spare time and not have to worry about stepping on toes at a public school.

Perhaps this is something to take to prayer. Maybe you should speak with your confessor or spiritual director. You might even seek out advice from Catholic teachers or homeschooling circles. May the Spirit guide you.

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