Building the Civilization of Love: The Black Student Experience at Salesianum School

Julius Christian Beretta, University of Pennsylvania


In 1970, when Pope Paul VI addressed the crowds at St. Peter’s Square on Pentecost Sunday, he described the mission of the Catholic Church as one of building a Civilization of Love, a phrase echoed by the popes and church leaders who have followed him (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2013; 2017). But despite the religious and educational goals that appear in mission statements and foundational documents, Catholic school communities are made up of students, parents, teachers, and administrators who live in a cultural context contaminated by racism and injustice (Massingale, 2010). This qualitative study explores the experience of Black students at Salesianum School, an independent Catholic high school for boys in Wilmington, Delaware. A total of 45 students participated in the research, including 39 of the 45 students enrolled in the school who identified as Black or African American in the 2018–2019 school year, and 6 students who identified as Multiracial with African ancestry. Data collection methods included 7 focus groups and 22 semi-structured individual interviews conducted in May 2019, and observational fieldnotes taken in the school environment over several months. Findings indicate that Black students face many challenges in the predominantly White school, coping with racial differences and stereotypes, grappling with the consequences of the lack of student and faculty diversity, and encountering racial privilege, implicit bias, and frequent microaggressions. The strong bonds they form based on shared experiences help them develop racial literacy and cultural adaptability as they learn to navigate racial stress and conflict, and they remain loyal to the community and committed to its growth. An accurate understanding of the Black student experience is essential to the school’s educational and religious mission to develop the whole person. By exploring the factors that influence their learning and belonging at Salesianum, the school can improve practice and provide more effective racial literacy programming for all students, and more authentically reflect the Civilization of Love.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Black studies|Religious education

Recommended Citation

Beretta, Julius Christian, "Building the Civilization of Love: The Black Student Experience at Salesianum School" (2020). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI27834636.