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By Msgr. Michael J. Corona, PA
In 2005 in a Pastoral Letter entitled “Renewing the Commitment to Catholic Schools in the Third Millennium,” the Bishops of the United States wrote: “Our young people are a valued treasure and the future leaders of the Church. It is the responsibility of the entire Catholic community to continue to strive to the goal of making our Catholic schools AVAILABLE, ASSESSIBLE, & AFFORDABLE to all Catholic parents and their children — both the poor and the middle class.”
The Bishops committed themselves and the whole U.S. Church to the following: schools will continue to provide a Gospel-based education of the highest quality; schools will be available, accessible and affordable; schools will be staffed by highly qualified administrators and teachers who receive just wages and benefits. They go on to tell us that Catholic schools continue to be “the most effective means available to the Church for the education of children and young people who are the future of the Church, by equipping our young people with: a sound education — rooted in the gospel; rooted in the person of Jesus, and rich in the cherished traditions and liturgical practices of our faith, we ensure that they have the foundations to live morally and uprightly in our complex modern world.”
In a Sept. 13, 2010 America Magazine article by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, he speaks of the obvious and familiar reasons why Catholic Schools have been in decline: “the steady drop in vocations to the religious teaching orders who were the single greatest work force in the Church’s modern period; the drastic shift in demographics in the later part of the last century with the dramatic drop-off of immigration from Europe; the rising cost of living since the late 1970s that forced nearly every American parent to become a wage-earner, the rising costs of school operations (salaries, utilities, etc.), and the recession of 2008 put Catholic schools beyond some parent’s budgets; and the crumbling of an intact neighborhood-based Catholic culture that depended on parochial school as its foundation.”
He goes on to articulate that “the most crippling reason may lie in the enormous shift in the thinking of American Catholics: that responsibility for Catholic Schools belongs ONLY to the parents of the students who attend them, not to the entire Church.” Unfortunately today, I believe Catholics often see a Catholic School Education as a consumer product — reserved for those who can afford it. Many Catholics have disowned their school system, and have excused themselves as individuals and parishes because their own children are not enrolled or their parish does not have its own school.
Yet, statistics tell us that the Church benefits from Catholic Schools in ways that can keep parishes strong. So, what are the challenges? The first is that we must re-awaken a sense of common ownership of the ministry of education in our schools. The second is that we must answer the question: Who needs Catholic Schools? The answer is, we all do! Much of the research over the last 50 years has answered with a unanimous voice that Catholic Schools are an unquestioned success in every way: Spiritually, Academically and Communally.
Statistics go on to tell us that our graduates emerge as lifelong practitioners of the Faith and the academic strength of Catholic Schools is unassailable. When learning is done in an environment with moral values and the living of the Faith, our test scores and achievements outstrip public school counterparts.
Sociologists (Greeley & Gautier) found in their studies that: Graduates of Catholic schools are notably different from Catholic children not in parochial schools in four areas: fidelity to Sunday Mass; maintaining pro-life attitudes; they personally consider a religious vocation; and that they continue support for the local church and community for the balance of their adult lives through their financial contributions and the service they give.
Also, the influence of Catholic Values and the fostering of Faith and Morals are the single biggest supports for the success of many young people (Catholics and non-Catholics) educated in our Catholic Schools, especially in the inner city.
Frequently, when speaking with pastors and parents of our school children, I hear voiced the concern that finances are a real deterrent to choosing a Catholic School education for their children. Thank God that we have a program here in the Diocese which through the support of the Catholic Education collection and the work of the Foundation for Catholic Education, we offer tuition assistance to those who apply. Unfortunately the need far surpasses the amount of money available.
I recently read excerpts from a book entitled "Genuflections: Famous Folks Talk About Growing Up Catholic,” by author Robert Heguerth of the Chicago Sun. In it he gathers rare interviews with Catholic celebrities, actors, athletes, musicians and public figures the likes of U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, actor Mark Wahlberg, Super Bowl coach Mike Ditka and many more.
I was pleasantly surprised by a quote in support of Catholic education, made by Ryan, the Speaker of the House: “I think Catholic education is very important, that’s why we have our kids in Catholic schools ... teaching morals, values and natural law. Giving that foundation at an early age is invaluable, immeasurable.” The Wisconsin native adds, “I am convinced ... that a Catholic education is central to a good upbringing, to raise kids in a moral way. To teach them right and wrong, that there are moral absolutes.”
My hope is that through his leadership, the House might favorably consider federal School Choice legislation for parents. However, this will not happen unless our Catholic people voice their concern for school choice and our school parents take the opportunity to contact their legislators when asked to do so by our Network of Catholic School Parents.
In support of Catholic education, our Holy Father Pope Francis said: “Our generation will show that it can rise to the promise found in each young person when we know how to give them space. This means that we have to create the material and spiritual conditions for their full development; to give them a solid basis on which to build their lives; to guarantee their safety and their education to be everything they can be; to pass on to them lasting values that make life worth living; to give them a transcendent horizon for their thirst for authentic happiness and their creativity for the good; to give them the legacy of a world worthy of human life; and to awaken in them their greatest potential as builders of their own destiny, sharing responsibility for the future of everyone. If we can do all this, we anticipate today the future that enters the world through the window of the young.” (7/22/13, Garden)
What our Holy Father speaks about is what happens in our Catholic Schools each and every day. I invite you to consider a Catholic School Education for your children by visiting your local Catholic School, especially during this Catholic Schools Week as we celebrate: “Catholic Schools — Communities of Faith Knowledge and Service.”