For the past decade, Catholic education has been on the decline. Data from the 2016-2017 National Catholic Education Association Report shows that since 2006, the number of Catholic schools has decreased by 14 percent and the number of students attending Catholic school has decreased by 17.6 percent.
Perhaps Teach for Christ can help reverse this trend.
The name may ring a bell, as it bears resemblance to the existing program Teach for America. However, Teach for Christ, which will be released for the first time this coming fall, differs from organizations such as Teach for America and Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) in that it is not meant solely, or even primarily, for future teachers.
In fact, in an interview last week, Richard Vigilante, the founder of Teach for Christ and Board Member of Chesterton Academy, does not expect the majority of participants to end up as professional educators. As Vigilante puts it, Teach for Christ is meant simply for college graduates who wish to serve Christ in a concrete way before entering any particular career.
This is one of the main reasons Vigilante was inspired to create Teach for Christ. He recalls how fast his career took off after graduating and admits, “If someone would have tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to give Jesus two years or a year of my life, I would have been so grateful.” Whether or not the young men and women of Teach for Christ will directly use the skills they learn in their future jobs, they will undoubtedly be more prepared to participate in their future parish communities, whether that be teaching a catechism class or helping with administrative tasks.
Vigilante was also motivated by the continuous decline of Catholic education alluded to above. When Vigilante was a little boy, he and his siblings were all able to receive a genuine Catholic education, an experience he considers immensely fruitful and formational. Tuition for his older brother was eight dollars per month, for him it was five dollars per month, and for his younger siblings it was free — something quite unimaginable today. To discover the most effective ways to help Catholic education, Vigilante and his team met with principals and teachers from a variety of Catholic schools to ask them what they needed.
The findings were similar across the board: Catholic schools lack one-on-one instruction in the classroom, strong sports teams and programs, ministry as part of the school day, and necessary school marketing. These needs defined the strategy Vigilante and his team adopted: Teach for Christ purposefully recruits, matches and trains its team of educators according to the specific needs of Catholic schools. This focused approach, which recognizes and addresses the particular needs of each school, is what Vigilante believes will make Teach for Christ so effective.
As of this fall, Teach for Christ has placed eight educators in four schools. For the next two years, Vigilante plans to operate exclusively in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. However, he is ambitious and confident in their plans to expand nationwide thereafter and is planning to have over 1,000 educators in more than 200 schools in the next five years.
Although Teach for Christ trains its educators in practical and operational matters, Teach for Christ’s core mission lies in the “theoretical, intellectual and spiritual” aspect of training that aims to realize “the specific vocation of Catholic schools.” Richard sees the end of Catholic education as closely aligning to the thought of G.K. Chesterton: “to appreciate the goodness and wonder of creation.” Furthermore, says Richard, one “cannot fully appreciate this without understanding through Whom the world was made…we teach children the Truth but can never forget that the Truth is a Person.”