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Third Order of Catholic Teachers

Updated: Mar 20

Religious Teacher
There is another way, one that is between vowed religious and lay teacher




Diocese of XXXXX

Dear Superintendent XXXXX,

It is my pleasure to meet your acquaintance. I had previously contacted the Clergy and Religious, Parish Life, and Formation and Education offices. It was made known to me that the best way to proceed on this idea-proposal would be to direct a letter to you.

In the last couple generations, lay teachers have succeeded vowed religious in filling most teaching positions in Catholic schools. Many, if not most lay teachers were educated and trained in colleges and universities pursuant to receiving certification to teach in government, not Catholic schools. Indeed, a teacher that works in a Catholic school is not necessarily a ‘Catholic school teacher’ in the holistic sense.

I had the experience of working as a teacher at the XXXXX School in XXXXX for a short time in the 1990s. Most of the faculty of the school at the time were vowed religious Sisters of XXXXX. They had founded the school in 19XX. Enrollment grew so quickly that a larger facility had to be found within just a few years of the school’s existence. I took away from that experience that the sisters’ lives were consumed by the children at the school. Teaching was their vocation, to be sure.

A good portion of my own career was spent serving as a teacher, coach, and administrator in private, American-International schools abroad. A clear distinction between overseas schools and schools at home is the length of stay for teachers. In fact, private schools abroad set policies whereby foreign teachers may not even entertain the idea of career employment. Moreover, American teachers living and working abroad often band together for the lack of ability to speak the native language of their residing country. By their grouping together and the fact that their stay will be a relatively short one, these teachers, similar to religiously vowed teachers, spend a great deal of their time engaged and even consumed in school activities, even outside the school day.

The average lay teacher today cannot make service to school their main priority. Perhaps they are married. Maybe they have their own children and have to care for them. They have their circle of friends and family in their local communities, perhaps for decades, unlike overseas teachers in foreign lands that are new to their adopted communities.

I suggest there may be space for a number of teachers in Catholic schools to enlargen their commitment to their school communities. Unmarried teachers with none of their own children are good prospects. Married teachers with children but who are highly organized and efficient may also be good candidates. As the saying goes, if you want to get something done, ask a busy person. The goal here is that teaching continues to be a vocation rather than a job performed on a contractual, legal, and transactional basis.

I have looked into Third Orders, Oblates, and Lay Associates and have been unable to find an order that is specifically suited for Catholic school teachers. According to

The history of religious life has had people who are attracted to and want to be part of the spirit of a particular community but not necessarily become a religious sister or brother, nun, or monk. In response, religious communities have over time established various ways so that such folks can more formally share in the spirit of the community. These formal relationships with a community may involve mutual responsibilities, a renewable or life-long commitment, and a rule of life.

It seems to me there is a difference between the vocational commitments to teaching between the vowed religious in the past and some lay teachers today. Again, there is a difference between a Catholic School Teacher and a lay teacher who happens to be working in a Catholic school. Obviously, there has been some sort of formation for state-trained teachers on site at a Catholic school, ongoing or not. However, I am convinced that at least a few lay teachers in every school in the diocese would like to go deeper in their formation, perhaps not to the point of becoming a vowed sister, brother, priest, or nun, but still yearn for more of the ‘spirit of community’. Mutual responsibilities, commitment, and a rule of life for this third order of Catholic Teacher can include:

  • Regular, communal prayer and intercession for the school community

  • Periodic gatherings of teachers between schools

  • Commitment to private prayer and the recitation of the rosary

  • Reciprocal feedback on classroom instruction

  • Commitment to refrain from gossip

  • Support for administration and scriptural ways to resolve conflict

  • No acceptance of failure from students; holding high expectations

  • Being always available to parents, colleagues, and students

  • Frequent presence at community gatherings

  • Wearing a visible sign to demonstrate solidarity within the order (pin, sash, color, other)

In summary, it’s nothing more than living out God’s greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22: 37-40)

With just a few teachers from each school making these voluntary commitments and gaining in number from year-to-year, it will become an organic, lay apostolate of the Holy Spirit bearing great fruit in the Diocese of XXXXX.

You may be interested in my doctoral research completed in 2014 on non-academic outcomes for students attending schools in the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program. I have attached it to this letter.

In Our Lord and Our Lady,

Dave Rojeck, Ph.D.

Catholic Educational Leadership/Policy Studies


I am a trainer for the Center for Teaching Effectiveness.

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