Do we have Catholic Schools in Ghana today?

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

Education has been touted as the best known instrument or process for moulding citizens in the right manner for personal and national development.

The various early Christian churches that came to the Gold Coast, in addition to building chapels, also established schools to express the concern for the training of young people into more useful citizens imbued with Christian attitudes.

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Some of these churches were the Basel Mission Church (now Presbyterian Church), the Wesleyan Mission (now Methodist Church), the Catholic Church and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (now Anglican Church).

Indeed, the Presbyterian Church ranks first among the churches that started formal schools in this country.  Some of their schools are over a century-and-half old in Ghana.

The Catholic Church, as part of its social agenda, has over the years actively participated in the enterprise of providing education to peoples around the world. 

In Ghana, there is ample evidence to show that the church has played a leading role in the education of Ghanaians, especially the young. 

From the time that Frs. Moreau and Murat arrived in the Gold Coast in 1880 to the present, the Catholic Church has never ceased exploring avenues to enhance education.

From the church’s own resources, many schools and other educational centres, spanning the entire spectrum of formal education – pre-school, primary, junior high, senior high, vocational and technical, teacher training, university – have been established across the length and breadth of Ghana. 

Reviewing the second cycle sector for example, the Catholic Church can boast having set up most of the renowned schools in the country today. 

In the area of girls’ education, Catholic schools rank among the best if not the preferred places parents would strive to enrol their children.  But the question that must be asked is: Are these schools we call “Catholic schools” genuinely Catholic schools today?

What is a Catholic school?

To attempt to answer the question “What is a Catholic School?”, one can take a look at what Pope John Paul II told American Bishops in 2004 during their ad limina visit.  The Roman Pontiff , among other things, said:

‘It is of utmost importance. . .that the church’s institutions be genuinely Catholic; Catholic in their self-understanding and Catholic in their identity.’. 

It is clear from the above statement that the first and most important task for Catholic schools is to maintain and continually strengthen their Catholic identity.  It is necessary to discuss, though briefly, the nature of a Catholic school identity.

Five essentials of a Catholic school identity

Inspired by a Supernatural Vision:

The church’s purpose of education is to give boys and girls a formation that will make them good citizens of their country and the world.

Essentially, they are to unconditionally love God and their neighbour and expressly enrich society with the leaven of the Gospel.

The Gospel teaches that God-the-Son became Man, the perfect man in whom all human values find their fullest perfection, and in whose living presence everyone is aware of. 

This supernatural aspect of Catholic identity should not be sacrificed for any other good.  Unfortunately, there are  too many in government, business, media and even schools supposed to be Catholic who perceive education to be merely an instrument for the acquisition of information and skills that will increase the chances of worldly success and comfortable standard of living, pushing to the back burner the aspect of supernatural vision of education.

The supernatural vision aspect of education is the fulcrum around which all others revolve.  Without this dimension, the Catholic school only becomes like a centre or factory for churning out various skills and competencies.

According to Archbishop Michael J. Miller, Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, if we fail to keep this supernatural vision in the identity of our Catholic schools, then “all the talk about Catholic schools will be no more than a gong beating or a cymbal clashing”.

Perfecting the Natural Dimension:

Second, educators and parents, as well as managers of Catholic schools should have an understanding of the need to address the natural requirements of students in addition to the supernatural requirement. 

In this respect, Catholic education provides for the intellectual, moral and emotional well-being of the individual student so that they become fully human, exercising their best potential and talent for the common good. 

In other words, Catholic schools provide children with the capacity to assume a comprehensive way of life. 

This Christian anthropology should direct us to have an educational philosophy founded on the correct understanding of who the human person is, i.e., a child of God with intellect and freedom.  It is with such understanding that children placed in schools can attain the height of their divine purpose.

Community and Communion

Another essential is that a Catholic school should have an identity of community and communion.  It must exemplify a group driven by faith and who do things in common, setting themselves in the nature of family.

This situation calls for teamwork and collaboration not only among teachers and between teachers and students but also between members of the school and parents and the leadership of the church in the Diocese. 

Such a communal spirit will enhance the work of the Bishop who must see to it that the education provided by the schools is based on the principles of Catholic doctrine. 

It will also ensure that the relationship, as well as communication between teachers and students, is not characterised by monologue but rather by dialogue.

A true Catholic school should have a physical environment that speaks of its nature and purpose to the student even before they are enrolled and are fully integrated. 

In this respect, external signs such as a chapel, crucifix, and other sacramental images and icons should be evident in the physical environment.  Above all, prayer should be a normal part of a typical school day.

Curriculum Must Portray a Catholic Worldview

One other essential aspect is that the curriculum of a typical Catholic school should reflect the Catholic worldview or logical structure. 

That is to say, the spirit of Catholicism should be a guiding thread that permeates the entire curriculum.  The curriculum should depict the integral development of the student intellectually, physically, morally and religiously as espoused by the church.

In keeping to the tradition of Catholicism, the curriculum should be fashioned in such a way that students are led to discover for themselves what is Truth and what their duties are towards God and neighbour. 

Education that gives knowledge devoid of meaning is not wholesome and must not be entertained in a Catholic school. 

Catholic education should enable persons to transform culture in the light of the gospel so that superstitious beliefs can be eliminated. 

All this means that the curriculum should be such that students would be provided with sound religious instructions to enable them to live their faith.

Tone of Gospel Witnessing

Lastly, a Catholic school must of necessity be engulfed in an atmosphere of gospel witnessing.  It should be the unfailing responsibility of teachers and administrators of the school to create such a climate and they do so by their own examples as people who hold the Catholic faith. 

This makes the vocation of educators very important – they are not just to be teachers but witnesses. 

The church, therefore, has to have institutes where teachers are trained in their vocation to enable them to play their role as creators of Christian climate in the schools through transparent witnessing. 

In Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI draws attention to the fact that the “Modern man listens more to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers it is because they are witnesses”.  

Archbishop Michael J. Miller, reinforces this teaching with his view that “Children will pick up far more by the example of their educators than masterful pedagogical techniques…”.

Do we have Catholic schools in Ghana today?

After looking at what the Church puts out as the essentials of the Catholic school identity, how do we answer the question: Do we have Catholic schools in Ghana today? 

Certainly, the answer is in the negative.  We used to have Catholic schools in the past but what we have today are schools named Catholic.

During the period preceding the Independence of Ghana and even up to the early seventies, Ghana could boast Catholic schools in every sense. 

One only had to name the Catholic school one attended and immediately one was considered educated person. 

In those days, even parents belonging to other faiths appreciated the wholesome education the Catholic schools provided and they did not hesitate to send their children there.  

Today, there are many well-placed Ghanaians, Catholics and non-Catholics alike who openly attribute the formidable foundation upon which they have built responsible adult life and successful career to solid formation they received at the Catholic schools they attended.

If in the early 21st Century Catholic schools are no longer perceived to have that Catholic identity, several factors might have contributed to that phenomenon.

There is not much space available for the discussion of these factors but the long and short of it all is that the church’s schools are no longer Catholic schools and no longer owned by the church. 

Essentially, they are public schools.  Either by default or over-arching arm of government, Catholic schools have long slipped into the welcoming hands of public entities that have no motivation or intention to maintain the Catholicity of these schools. 

Having added to the stock of the infrastructure of these schools coupled with the paying of teachers’ remuneration and management expenses, the government, as has been observed over the years, lacks any willingness to give back the schools to the church.

It seems generally officialdom or establishmentarianism of our country is averse to any form of religious influence in the way schools are run.

In the not-too-distant past, an orchestrated action was taken to remove "Religious Studies" from the curriculum of our schools and it took the personal intervention of the President of the Republic to reinstate it. 

This posture of officialdom can only point to a closed door to any possibility of giving back the schools to the church. 

Nonetheless, there is a justifiable cause for the Catholic Church, the founders and real owners of the schools, to unrelentingly pursue plausible actions to resume control over these schools. 

Under the circumstance, the effort of the Catholic Church to seek partnership with the government with the hope that the church can significantly participate in the management of the schools is encouraging and worthy of support though, the move expresses the Catholic Church’s frustration. 

We pray earnestly the goodwill behind this effort at partnership translates into real results which may open the gates to the desired objective.

Consideration of establishing new schools

For the sake of the future Catholic offspring, some persons are of the view that the church should start building its own schools again. 

This initiative may appear a daunting task, especially when the overseas sources of funding that supported the establishment of Catholic schools in the past are no longer available.  

The question may be asked:  Can’t lay persons of the church make funds available to build new Catholic schools for the benefit of future children? 

In some countries such as Australia, Ireland and South Africa, to mention a few, Catholic schools are thriving and the lay persons there made and continue to make funds available to the schools.  

It is heart-warming and most assuring to note that recently, the Catholic Standard reported that a group of lay persons living in Accra raised funds to begin the construction of a Catholic Senior High School for their mother Diocese.

This groundbreaking initiative  should excite and engender similar efforts.   Some Bishops have also started in a modest way to establish Catholic schools in their dioceses. 

The challenge is for the laity

The time has come for the Catholic laity in Ghana to shift their role as parents to a higher gear and assume direct responsibility for providing Catholic education for their children. 

Canons #222 and #793 of the Code of Canon Law enjoin lay persons not to renege on their duty to provide resources for the good of the church.

Surely, pooling resources to establish a Catholic school where children will be moulded into useful citizens who bear the image of God is a bounden Christian duty of a responsible laity. 

If we do not begin to act now, soon we will find our world not only decaying and brutalising itself but also our children will be rapidly distancing themselves from God, the Maker of all that exist and without whom all of us are nothing.  

Let the Ghanaian Catholic lay persons rise up to the occasion and secure good education for their children and those yet unborn.

Lamenting and complaining now and then that Catholic identity is missing from our Catholic schools no longer serve any useful purpose.

Action is what is needed! The church must have schools with Catholic identity. Raising funds for the purpose is possible.

 The Ghanaian Catholic is not bankrupt.  When properly engaged, the laity can do it and in grand style, too.

The leaders of the National Catholic Laity Council should purposefully make the council the rallying point for all manner of lay persons to put their shoulders to the wheel. Let the pastors also, in the spirit of Canon #794, provide direction and collaboration. 

May God bless any effort that may be initiated.

Article by Sir Knight Fosuaba Mensah Banahene