Author

Paul Lentern

Date of Submission

2020

Abstract

Understanding the nuanced and varied expressions of spirituality found among young people is a crucial dimension of the work of educators in Catholic schools. The focus of this mixed methods research was to understand the expressions of spirituality found among senior students in three Catholic secondary schools, and to draw on this understanding to allow Catholic schools to more effectively engage their students with spirituality. The reflections of the participants from the senior cohorts of three Catholic schools provided the basis for understanding their expressions of spirituality, their commitment to spirituality and the influences on their spirituality. The study aimed to identify avenues where these Catholic schools could modify their practice to better align programs and initiatives to the diverse expressions of spirituality evident among the student cohorts. An iterative mixed methods typology was used in this study, drawing on a theoretical framework of complementarity, where the strengths of qualitative and quantitative data analysis were accessed and allowed to mix and merge. The mixed methods research methodology involved the use of data from an online survey with two hundred and sixty one respondents, together with individual and group interviews involving thirty seven student volunteers together with six teachers. The effectiveness of Catholic schools as a means of engaging students with spirituality is a central question in the minds of leaders of Catholic schools and their auspicing authorities (Catholic Bishops of NSW and ACT, 2007; Catholic Education Office Sydney, 2014b). It is also a central focus for researchers working in this field (Hughes, 2017; Rossiter, 2018). The findings of this research highlight the relatively secular perspectives held by the student participants across a broad continuum of spirituality profiles, together with the minimal influence these three Catholic schools are having on the spirituality of their students. Notwithstanding the minimal influence currently in evidence, the expressions of spirituality identified in this study confirm the potential, in some areas, for these Catholic schools to achieve more meaningful and effective engagement with their students in spirituality. This research has provided contributions to knowledge in the field finding that more than one-third of students, having reached the end point of their experience in a Catholic school, had not been consciously engaged with spirituality during their time at school. Further, this research identified a propensity for students to hold literal views of biblical creation accounts leading to inevitable conflicts with their developing scientific knowledge. This significance of this research is evident in the context of profound change taking place in the personal, social and religious dimensions of Western societies. The extent of this transformation leads Pope Francis to describe this not as an era of change but as a change of epoch (Pope Francis, 2015b). The steadily declining uptake of Catholic Christianity and the breakdown of the parish and family model of handing on this religious tradition highlight the significant role of Catholic schools in the task of engaging students with spirituality. The significance of this contribution of Catholic schools in the area of spirituality confirms the importance of this investigation. This research has the potential to assist these three Catholic schools in refining their practice to more effectively engage students with spirituality in the context of an increasingly secular milieu. It provides several critical insights into the expressions of the spirituality of senior students, which can inform and guide strategic decisions in these schools. This may lead to more meaningful and effective engagement with a broader range of students in these cohorts.

School/Institute

School of Education

Document Type

Thesis

Access Rights

Open Access

Extent

494 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Faculty

Faculty of Education and Arts

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