Leadership in Catholic Education

Tony Whelan (Catholic Schools Office, Diocese of Broken Bay, Australia)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 1 June 2004



Reviews Leadership in Catholic Education, a collection of articles focusing on Catholic schooling in the Australian context. The review is organised around three themes of the book, namely mission, leadership and catholic identity.



Whelan, T. (2004), "Leadership in Catholic Education", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 42 No. 3, pp. 401-403. https://doi.org/10.1108/09578230410534694



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

In his foreword to this scholarly work, Peter Sheehan, Vice Chancellor of the Australian University, contends that the collective wisdom of those currently responsible for Catholic schooling in the Australasian context is not frequently available. Many authors of Leadership in Catholic Education are currently senior executives of large Catholic school systems. Together, their articles confront many of the policy and practice issues in an elegant balance of past and present agendas. This review is organised around three themes of the book; which are as follows:

  1. 1.


  2. 2.

    leadership, and

  3. 3.

    catholic identity.

The first arena explored is that of the mission of Catholic schools in a secular society. This is underpinned by Professor Tony Kelly's reflection on a theology of Catholic education. Dr Therese D'Orsa acknowledges the shift in the way there is engagement between society, culture and Church. Catholic education has become the focal point for this engagement. A new frame of reference based on a changed understanding of knowledge constituted within a context invites a critique of learning as relational. Without devaluing on earlier historical context of pastoral ministry in a fortress mentality Church, D'Orsa proposes a new “missionary”, broader evangelisation and inculturation conceptualisation of the purpose of Catholic schools today as more realistic in today's socio‐political context.

Hutton critiques the diversity of Catholic schools within a coherent Catholic worldview. He shows how the religious, educational and social purposes of Catholic schools have been interwoven. Hutton argues that such contemporary tools such as strategic planning, scenario planning and narrative construction enhance a more dialogical, value‐based approach to focussing the Catholic school of the future. Dr Paul Sharkey examines religious education and the postmodern context. The contours of both high capacity and commitment by teachers are examined, and the processes necessary for the formation of a predominantly lay teaching service are highlighted.

Leadership is examined in a second theme. Morley advocates a new view of leadership redefined as relational. This derives from a “living unit” organisational structure of a school which becomes a Web of small living units. Each unit is characterised by:

  • being a small unit;

  • a shared view of Christian leadership as radically relational as an antidote to economic rationalism;

  • integrating knowledge and wisdom;

  • meaning found in the “strange attractor” of chaos theory.

Anne Benjamin probes the nexus between professional leadership and the ministry of leadership in Catholic schools. She draws on Starratt's ethical intent framework of administering meaning, community and goodness. Power contrasts the feminisation of teaching with her research claim of covert discrimination facing women seeking principalship. Canavan explains the development of strategic leadership and management across a large metropolitan Catholic school system as a means of developing a strong organisational culture.

Catholic identity is critically examined in third theme. Stevens, from Tasmania, reports on sustained demographic instability and its implications. For him, Catholic schools have become de facto forms of Catholic life where the active involvement of families in parishes has diminished, new symbiotic relationships with parish structures are evolving and the burgeoning enrolments of non‐Catholic students have accelerated. By contrast, Lynch endorses the New Zealand integrated national school system and sees the school devolution movement as providing a meaningful way of enshrining local Catholic school autonomy and subsidiarity within an individual rights culture. He contends this has provided an opportunity for transformation of Catholic school identity.

Duncan, in the face of a consumerist philosophy of choice, looks at processes of appropriately marketing Catholic schools within a pluralist society. The risk of compromise of identity in the chase for student numbers challenges Catholic schools to be quite specific and confident about espoused core values. The interdependence of Catholic schools with secular society is explored by Kohn and Riley in their examination of student rights and a changing litigious environment.

Patrick Duignan teases out the ramifications for the authentic formation of leaders for tomorrow's Catholic schools. Duignan believes that in an era of growing cynicism about the integrity of leaders, Catholic education can make a special contribution to shaping a society that values and respects the dignity and worth of its people and that raises the bar in terms of the level of conduct of its citizens. Regrettably, this valid critique unhappily coincided with some of the publicised lacunae among Church leaders.

Throughout the book, the authors provide a balanced selection of key issues. They draw upon contemporary, educational theory insights such as “strange attractor” applications from chaos theory. Their critiques are, at times, daringly at the cutting edge. There is an honest endeavour by Catholic educators to engage in the postmodern educational conversation without compromising the confessional dimension of “Catholic” in education. It may have been an even more significant anthology if the contribution of such a critical theorist as Richard Bates had been added. However, this should prove a valuable seminal work for examining Catholic education discourse and a helpful guide to postgraduate students in this field.

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