Skip to Main Content

Responding Proactively to Gender Theory in Catholic Schools

February 14, 2022

Recent events and a way forward

confused female student

In recent months dioceses across the country have been responding to gender theory and identity questions with catechetical and pastoral documents intended to guide the faithful, especially in Catholic schools and those entrusted with the care of children. Notably, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee released the exemplary and succinct document Catechesis and Policy on Questions Concerning Gender Theory. While such documents are laudable, there are several angles at which Catholic educators must respond to the growing questions and troubling situations.

While the healing and pastoral element that is often put in place, usually after difficult situations arise, is a crucial piece of the puzzle, we must look to preventative measures that affirm from an early age the truth of the human person in all their dignity and glory as made in the image and likeness of God. At Ruah Woods Press we have made it our mission to help every boy and girl appropriate and understand their innate dignity through our K-12 Christian anthropology curriculum.

pope st. john paul II

Inspired by Pope St. John Paul II’s life and work, our K-12 curriculum uses age-appropriate pedagogy that teaches through story, reflection, and the guidance of a teacher. However, lest this descend into simply an advertisement for our curriculum, it is important to reflect on the nature and purpose of Catholic education to understand where this proactive measure fits. With the aid of the Center for Catholic Education’s document The Nature, Mission and Identity of Catholic Schools: Selections from Church Documents on Education, a refreshing picture will be painted for responding proactively to gender theory in Catholic schools; it is here that the answer lays and our curriculum fits.

Inspired by a supernatural vision

two happy Catholic school students

“No less than other schools does the Catholic school pursue cultural goals and the human formation of youth. But its proper function is to create for the school community a special atmosphere animated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity, to help youth grow according to the new creatures they were made through baptism as they develop their own personalities, and finally to order the whole of human culture to the news of salvation so that the knowledge the students gradually acquire of the world, life and man is illumined by faith.”[1]

Catholic education is built upon immutable truths given through Revelation and as such operates with the freedom of having received a gift. Catholic identity is above one’s identity in Christ rooted in the sacraments. This supernatural foundation and vision sustain Catholic education, amidst the ever-changing opinions and ideologies of the day, what St. John Henry Newman referred to as the “religion of the day”. The supernatural vision of Catholic education anchors it in the resurrected Christ, thus ennobling it to flourish by the one who reveals man to himself.

Founded on Christian anthropology

man and wife at wedding

“The Catholic school is committed thus to the development of the whole man, since in Christ, the Perfect Man, all human values find their fulfillment and unity. Herein lies the specifically Catholic character of the school.”[2]

Related to, and indeed inseparable from, is that Catholic education is rooted in an adequate anthropology derived from the aforementioned supernatural vision. The Christian anthropology that Catholic education is rooted in is a deepening of the supernatural vision gifted to the Church, articulated in every age to meet the demands of the particular circumstances and problems every generation faces, no less our current generation and the crisis of identity, and attacks on marriage and the family.

Animated by communion and community

“But its proper function is to create for the school community a special atmosphere animated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity…”[3]

happy group of teachers

The natural progression that flows from the supernatural vision and anthropological foundations is the community that is the heart of Catholic education. At Ruah Woods we have a distinction for schools who enlist in becoming a TOB Campus, which is an intentional formation of educators in their peer groups; this is one example of the communion and community that is animated by the truth of the human person. As Pope St. John Paul II also points out, man is not so much in the image and likeness of God in solitude, but rather is when in communion with one another. Created in the image and likeness of the triune God who is a communion of persons, Catholic education must reflect this trinitarian ideal where every person is seen as a gift bearing the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Facing the difficult questions and situations that arise with regard to identity necessarily relies on the support and formation of a community of believers who will mutually nurture an environment animated by truth in charity.

Imbued with a Catholic worldview throughout the curriculum

“A Catholic school must be committed to the development of a program which will overcome the problems of a fragmented and insufficient curriculum.”[4]

house built on rock

The necessary tools which comprise an authentically Catholic education must be found in the curriculum deployed in the classroom. Here it is essential to have a foundational curriculum which seeks to bind the often-fragmented subjects within a school. What is so uniquely Catholic about a Catholic education is the coherent view of the whole that Catholic education makes claim to. Once again, problems that arise with regard to sexual identity are answered much easier when there has been a nurturing, effective, and sustaining curriculum in place from K-12, like a house built on the rock. “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” Matthew 7:24-25

Often times the gender ideology crises that arise in a school are born out of isolation with very little to guide the educator pastorally or catechize effectively; it’s much more difficult to explain the Catholic worldview and its claim to sexual identity when the first time it is brought up is after a serious situation has already arisen. The most effective means to catechize and guide our students in the truth of the human person is from the earliest possible age until the relative maturation of high school.

Sustained by Gospel witness

“By their witness and their behavior teachers are of the first importance to impart a distinctive character to Catholic schools.”[5]

In all of these core principles which comprise an authentically Catholic education and help equip educators, none is ultimately effective without the personal witness of the educators themselves. There has been a natural, or rather supernatural progression within this article to lead one to the proactive means of dealing with the problems arising from the culture-at-large and its ideological dysfunctions born from an incoherent and incomplete view of the human person.

teacher with apples

All of these principles are essential but none of them replace the personal witness of believer committed to their vocation of imparting truth to those entrusted to their care. Here there are no short-cuts, rather a life of deep prayer and sacraments are the sure means to infusing a gospel witness in the teachers and administration of a particular school. Everything rests upon this and it is precisely this that allows one to stand in the face of the assaults upon the children in our care. “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.” James 3:1

At Ruah Woods, we have dedicated the entirety of our work to empowering educators and transforming Catholic schools, and indeed even entire dioceses, with these guiding principles as the beginning of a proactive means of responding to the identity crisis raging in our schools. To be proactive means to be authentically Catholic, and to be authentically Catholic means to be proactive.

Written by, Michael Grasinski,
President of Evangelization, Ruah Woods

[1] Declaration on Christian Education, #8
[2] The Catholic School” #35
[3] Declaration on Christian Education, #8
[4] The Religious Dimensions of Education in a Catholic School, #55
[5][5] The Catholic School, #78



Michael Grasinski