Sense of the Sacred
A physical environment that uses the intellect, art, design and space to engage the senses contributes
to the religious identity and culture of a community. The aesthetic, social and physical environment is
a powerful means by which a school community creates, values and reflects a sense of the sacred.
Attending to the aesthetic aspects of the school setting can make a significant contribution to the
religious and spiritual formation of young people. As the school seeks to foster what is good, beautiful
and true, it communicates its beliefs and its faith through its total environment. The various areas of
the curriculum, especially the humanities, make explicit this aesthetic dimension.
Above all, a Catholic school is to be a place that affirms life in all its beauty and diversity, ensuring that
the creative energies and output of students and staff are valued. Through its aesthetic character the
school proclaims its understanding of the link between the faith it proclaims and the community it
The Catholic tradition has a long held practice of connecting the design and care of buildings and their
surrounds to the religious and spiritual formation of people. Art and architecture are more than merely
functional within this tradition. Buildings and their surrounds have the capacity to inspire and to symbolise
the beliefs and the hopes of a community. In this way they contribute to the nurturing of faith.
Catholic schools also endeavour to develop a social environment in which teachers, students and
parents know they are valued as persons of worth and dignity, created in the image and likeness
of God. A sense of God’s presence in the social environment of the school is fostered when people
experience Christian hospitality, when they gather for prayer and worship and when they are
supported in celebrating the everyday moments of life.
It is helpful to bear in mind, in harmony with the Second Vatican
Council, that this community dimension in the Catholic school is not
a merely sociological category; it has a theological foundation as well.
The educating community, taken as a whole, is thus called to further
the objective of a school as a place of complete formation through
interpersonal relations (The Catholic School on the Threshold of the
Third Millennium, 1997, n.18).
A balanced Religious Education program promotes both conceptual and aesthetic knowledge. In a
General sense, the classroom learning and teaching of religion is focused on conceptual knowledge
and in the religious life of the school there is a focus on aesthetic knowledge, but both ways of
knowing are important components of both domains.
The aesthetic comes to us in a number of ways. The aesthetic connection with spiritual
understandings is one of the most potent. In fact, for many commentators, the spiritual dimension of
life and a sense of being connected with something larger than ourselves is at the heart of the aesthetic
experience as well as the spiritual experience.
When The Arts is integrated into both the classroom teaching of religion and the religious life of
the school, students are able to engage with material of a particular art form i.e. the material of
movement, of paint, of the digital pixel. Haseman (2013) refers to this as ‘sensuous engagement’. He
advanced the view that it is not a conceptual thing, because when learners start to work sensuously,
another part of the brain is activated and other forms of knowing come into play. The best of this
work leads to moments of revelation by being truly present: I am working this; I am so consumed by
this; my brain, my body, my imagination, my memory and my feelings are all connected with this.
Sense of the Sacred Document Library