Research in Service of Catholic Education – Part II: Interviews with Friends and Colleagues of Professor Grace

In the interview with Professor Grace mentioned in Part I of this post, I asked him about the areas where he believed more research was needed. He suggested three main areas: (i) Catholic Education and service for the Poor; (ii) the effectiveness of the spiritual, moral and social cultures of Catholic schools; (iii) the education and formation of Catholic school leaders and teachers. These themes are echoed by his friends and colleagues in interviews conducted over the last six months that are available in a compilation from the Global Catholic Education project. The interviews are organized around the following questions:

  1. Could you briefly introduce yourself and explain what your work on Catholic education entails?
  2. How and when did you first meet with Prof. Grace and how did you interact with him over the years?
  3. How do you see Prof. Grace’s main contributions to practice or research in Catholic education?
  4. In what way did Prof. Grace influence your own practice or research in Catholic education?
  5. How can Catholic education scholars make sure that their research is useful to practitioners?
  6. What are for you the most critical areas of future research in Catholic education, and why is that?
  7. What is your advice for graduate students who may be interested in conducting research in Catholic education?
  8. Is there a personal anecdote of your interactions with Prof. Grace that you would like to share?

While each of Professor Grace’s friends and colleagues answered those questions differently, there is a form of collective wisdom that emerges from the interviews in terms of priority themes for future research in Catholic education, advice to students who may be considering a doctorate, and of course who Professor Grace is as a person apart from his scholarly contributions. In order to give a flavour for the collection of interviews, a few snippets from each of the interviews are provided below.

Sr. Jacinta Mary Adhiambo, Missionary Congregation of the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary             

“[Prof. Grace] has greatly contributed to practice and research in Catholic Education… [e.g.] spiritual capital and the option for the poor in Catholic schools, the contributions of religious congregation in Catholic education and the challenge of secularisation that face Catholic schools in the 21st century.” 

“Catholic education scholars should ensure that…their research is useful to the practitioners…They should also have meetings with the education stakeholders and share with them research briefs.” 

David Finchman, Senior Lecturer and Senior Fellow at St Mary’s University

“Gerald has long been critically engaged in the educational debate with regard to challenges facing leaders within Catholic schools in a secular and market-driven society. His work not only…confronts…the implications of these challenges,…but he also offers practical encouragement and guidance.” 

“His work and his reputation as a leading international scholar…has been a major influence on the Catholic community worldwide. He is a leader and exemplar in the field of Catholic education.” 

Leonard Franchi, Lecturer at the University of Glasgow    

“Gerald’s work on religious and social capital is fundamental to the essence of Catholic education: What drives us? What is it we wish to communicate? How can we best communicate to others that which we have received? These are perennial questions but Gerald has forged a path which draws on insights from other ways of thinking about education.” 

“Gerald was one described to me fondly as the man who never knowingly left home without a tie…” 

Anne Lise Gordon, Director of the Institute for Education at St Mary’s University     

“I remember one of my first meetings with Prof. Grace over lunch in the refectory at St Mary’s. Such wide-ranging and enjoyable discussions! […] I also remember being inspired by Prof. Grace’s active encouragement and support for me as a Christian (albeit not Catholic) woman in leadership.” 

“Prof. Grace is a real gentleman…and he has the most beautiful handwriting in the world! I have also seen a steelier and more rebellious side to Prof. Grace, inspired by his values and commitment.” 

Marie Griffin, Chairperson of the Catholic Education Partnership, Ireland        

“Prof. Grace encourages people to do research in Catholic education and to write it up. This might seem like an easy job but it’s not! Many practitioners are engaging in interesting innovative practice and research but often lack the time, experience, confidence, and motivation to write up their work.” 

“When I went to meet him first in London, he was welcoming and so easy to talk to… Prof. Grace lives the mission of kindness, humility and servant leadership. This is good!” 

Caroline Healy, Course Lead, MA in Catholic School Leadership, St Mary’s University       

“In my view, Prof. Grace’s contribution to research in Catholic education concerns building it and developing it as an important sub-discipline of education in its own right… Founding a journal to build contributions from all over the world, not just Europe,…has been outstanding.” 

“It has been fun being his office neighbour for the past five years and spending time during busy schedules taking short breaks and just being happy colleagues and companions on our Catholic education journey together, laughing at Gerald’s ever-witty banter.” 

John Lydon, Professor at St Mary’s University         

“The concept of ‘spiritual capital’, defined…as ‘resources of faith derived from a religious tradition’, in my opinion, represents one of Professor Grace’s main contributions to research in Catholic education.” 

“Perhaps my fondest memory is of Professor Grace insisting that, in the middle of NCEA 2009 in Anaheim, we hire a car and I drive him to the Mass on Easter Sunday at the Basilica of San Juan Capistrano…[But] while in Anaheim he refused my request to journey to the burial place of a former USA President whose politics he disagreed with profoundly!” 

Fr. Cristobal Madero, SJ, Professor at Universidad Alberto Hurtado      

“The work of Gerald Grace is fundamental for approaching the tension between Catholic schools benefiting from the rules of the market and at the same time risking their identity because of that.” 

“Gerald is a reminder that to be meaningful and helpful, Catholic schools in today’s society need to have ministers, teachers, and leaders who conceive of the school and its role not only as a creator of social, economic, or cultural capital, but who also serve as mentors of spiritual capital.” 

Helena Miller, Director of Degrees at the London School of Jewish Studies    

“Gerald was, for many of our students, the first visiting professor who allowed them to think about and discuss Jewish Education in relation to Catholic education and Catholic schools.” 

“[At] the annual Research in Jewish Education Conference in London… Gerald took the conference by storm…,giving participants at that conference the opportunity for deep reflection and analysis of our Jewish education settings and contexts, through his examination of Catholic schools and education.” 

Sr. Kate Punnachet, Sister of Saint Paul of Chartres           

“My research has been based on Prof. Grace’s writing and his ideas, especially on the concept of ‘service to the poor and the marginalised.’” 

“During my time as his student and his secretary, Prof. Grace always focused and talked about the pillars of Catholic schooling…I have been greatly influenced by the example he sets as a “Catholic” teacher. He is kind, nice, and always ready to help anyone who comes to see him.” 

John Sullivan, Emeritus Professor at Liverpool Hope University             

“Gerald Grace is someone who has stood between the living tradition of our faith and contemporary educational policy developments; he has interpreted one to the other and built bridges between them.” 

“Here was a writer who could fearlessly expose the unwelcome implications of the managerialist language that swamped the reading of school leaders, someone who combined a stout defense of Catholic education at the same time as acknowledging its shortcomings.”  

Sean Whittle, Visiting Research Fellow at St Mary’s University    

“One of the impressive qualities of Gerald Grace is his charm and whit. He is also a person with a strong sense of mission: working as a researcher at the service of Catholic education…I distinctly remember Gerald politely but firmly speaking to a junior colleague about the need for gravitas and seriousness in relation to this work. This is important advice of which we all need to take note.” 

“I would encourage graduate students to emulate the approach of Gerald Grace – go into Catholic schools and find out what is going on. Keep the focus on high quality empirical analysis.” 

We all know about confirmation bias, our tendency to interpret new information in a way that supports our own prior beliefs. When I interact with Professor Grace or read his work, I sometimes interpret his remarks as an encouragement to continue the research I am doing on Catholic education. As I compiled the interviews for this collection, I saw that same tendency for interviewees even though some may have different opinions about what priority areas for research in the field should be. To me, this is again a testament to Professor Grace’s unique ability to encourage all of us in a friendly way to deepen our own research and practice. I hope that you will download the full set of interviews, enjoy reading them, find inspiration for your work, and also appreciate how wonderful and generous a person Professor Grace is! 

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Author: Quentin Wodon

Published: 14th February 2022

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© Catholic Social Thought 2020