James L. Heft, a Marianist priest, is Professor of Religion at the University of Southern California, and President of the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at USC. He served the University of Dayton for many years as theology professor, administrator, and Provost. His first three years of teaching, however, were at the high school level, and over the years this widely admired and respected Catholic scholar has addressed Catholic high school leaders and teachers at the annual convention of the National Catholic Education Association. Encouraged to gather these addresses into a book, he has instead sought to create and weave together a persuasively coherent [End Page 72] argument about the unique mission and importance of Catholic high schools today.
Each of the book’s eleven chapters is widely informed, and Heft has a gift for articulately summarizing and sharing the literature he reviews. The current situation of Catholic schooling, its history, the key elements in the process of legal development regarding public, Catholic, and other religious schools are among the topics masterfully treated. His chapter on moral and religious formation as central to the mission of a Catholic high school emphasizes four key and necessary characteristics: (1) teachers making an effort to put what they teach into a moral and theological context, i.e. striving to integrate knowledge; (2) communicating a sense of history, in all disciplines, including theology; (3) an emphasis on art, speech and drama, which he links to liturgical and eucharistic celebration; and (4) a service orientation. “Catholic educators have an advantage in these matters. In their efforts at moral education, they can openly draw upon a sense of the Gospel, a love of history and religious tradition, an integrated curriculum, an aesthetically moving celebration of the Eucharist, and a commitment to service motivated by the example of Jesus” (88).
Other chapters deal with the theological and moral sources for leadership, with today’s students, with teachers, with new models of Catholic education and gaining more money. Undergirding all of Heft’s discussion is a critique of modern secular culture, its power and its challenges.
Prior to reading this book, I had been aware of Heft’s excellent writing on Catholic higher education, but I was impressed anew by this book which deserves a readership wider than its title implies. There is a unique mission and place for Catholic high schools today, and Heft has made a case for this. Such schools currently enroll only about ten percent of Catholic teenagers, and that number should be higher. But I think the religious education needs of all those Catholic students not in Catholic schools today needs stronger leadership and [End Page 73] commitment of resources too. Much of Heft’s book would implicitly, if not explicitly, also support this.
This book is highly recommended for all libraries.