146 Metlars Lane, Piscataway, NJ 08854 | T: (732) 562-1990 | F: (732) 562-1399 | email@example.com
NOTE: The following letter was published in the January 26, 2017 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
We are so blessed as Catholics to have, as a part of our culture, many annual celebrations: memorials, feast days, solemnities and other opportunities to celebrate the beauty of our faith and the wisdom of the Church. I have found great joy and encouragement in sharing these experiences with you since my arrival. Together we also have many opportunities to praise, to give thanks and to remember all of the many ministries that are so vital to the people of God.
One wonderful annual celebration that is upon us again, is Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 29–Feb. 4. This is a week where we can thank God for this important ministry in our diocese, and take stock of how we can even improve upon something that is already good and worthy. Catholic schools have played such an important part in my life and the lives of so many others that it is good to have the opportunity to reflect on the impact our schools have had and continue to have today.
The Church has constantly encouraged us to promote and support our Catholic schools. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has referred to Catholic schools as “an outstanding apostolate of hope.” Indeed, there is much to be hopeful about.
In my own life, Catholic schools have played a critical role in strengthening all the lessons I learned in my home about faith, community and service. One visible way that I expressed my gratitude for my Catholic education was to have both my elementary school principal, Mercy Sister Marjorie Smith, and my high school vice principal (now principal), Religious Teachers Filippini Sister Marianne McCann, as participants in my ordination Mass as Bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen last May. They and the schools they represented were in a unique partnership with my family and deeply entwined in my formation.
Since becoming bishop, I have had the opportunity to return to both schools to visit the students and teachers and to celebrate Mass. It is always a joy to visit, and to thank God for the many people who made that possible for me: my parents, teachers, administrators, staff and generous benefactors who all sacrificed to make it possible for me to be formed at these institutions.
It has been a great joy to have already visited on many occasions all of our high schools for various occasions and many of the elementary schools. While visiting, I am reminded of the words of St. John Paul II when he visited our country, “for over 200 years now the Church in the United States has been instrumental in educating successive generations of Catholics, and in teaching the truth of the faith, promoting respect for the human person, and developing the moral character of their students. Their academic excellence and success in preparing young people for life have served the whole of American society.” This can be seen by the outstanding colleges and universities our graduates attend, the positions Catholic school graduates hold in both business and public service, in their continued service to our Church, and the dedication they bring to creating faith-filled families.
For more than 200 years, Catholic schools have been educating children in the United States. There are many stories to be told about the incredible work done by the religious communities of sisters that educated legions of children, forming a school system that grew to five million students. Today, more than 6,000 Catholic schools across the country still fulfill the mission expressed in the document “To Teach as Jesus Did”, written by the Bishops of the United States in 1972, “The educational mission of the Church is an integrated ministry embracing three interlocking dimensions: the message revealed by God which the Church proclaims; fellowship in the life of the Holy Spirit; service to the Christian community and the entire human community.”
Beacons of Light
When you visit anyone of our schools, you will see this mission being lived out in so many ways. First and foremost, you will note the Catholic identity of the schools and the expression of the Gospel message in all that occurs.
As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminded us, “every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth. This relationship elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and his teaching. In this way those who meet Him are drawn by the very power of the Gospel to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good, and true; a life of Christian witness nurtured and strengthened within the community of our Lord’s disciples, the Church.”
So many share with me that our schools are truly communities of faith and service. I have been so proud of our students as I learn about the many acts of service being performed in each of our schools. All four high schools have active campus ministry programs that consistently reach out to those in need, and we were able to assign priests to our high schools this past spring to minister and teach our youth, too.
If you are not familiar with the impact our schools are having on our youth, I hope you will visit the school websites to learn how our young people are growing in their love for the Lord and his Church and taking the Gospel message out into the world.
Equally edifying is the service being done in the elementary schools. Students are involved in food drives, coat drives, raising money for the Missionary Childhood Associate, collaborating with Catholic Charities and sponsoring students’ education in Guatemala among many other activities. We pray that this way of living becomes part of their lives.
Catholic Schools Week gives us all the opportunity to thank all of those who contribute to the success of our schools.
As the primary educators of your children, let me thank the parents for putting your faith and trust in our schools and allowing us to partner with you in the education of your child. It is in a Catholic school that the faith you are teaching at home will be reinforced, forming and ultimately transforming your child as a disciple of Jesus Christ. They will carry this with them throughout their lives.
We are also indebted to pastors, principals, faculties, staff and benefactors in each and every school for the work they do and the generosity of spirit exhibited in their teaching vocations. Through your generosity to our Bishops Annual Appeal, professional development is provided for teachers and support for programming also occurs.
Pope Francis has stated, “The education of children and young people is such an important task in forming them as free and responsible human beings. It affirms their dignity as an inalienable gift that flows from our original creation as children made in the image and likeness of God. And because education truly forms human beings, it is especially the duty and responsibility of the Church, who is called to serve mankind from the heart of God and in such a way that no other institution can.”
If you have a child in Catholic school, I hope you enjoy all of the Catholic Schools Week celebrations that will be occurring in your school. For those families that do not have children in one of our schools, I encourage you to consider it; it is worth the sacrifice and we have tuition assistance programs for those in financial need.
Please call one of the schools, or the Diocesan Office of Schools at (732) 562-2446 to learn more about the schools in the Diocese of Metuchen.
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen