Catholic Schools Week celebrates unique contribution
National Catholic Schools Week is celebrated this week to acknowledge the “spiritual, academic and societal contributions” of Catholic schools across the country. This year’s theme is “Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops states that nearly 1.9 million students are currently educated in 6,429 Catholic schools in around the country. Ninety-nine percent of students graduate from high school, and 86 percent of Catholic school graduates attend college. But it’s important to note that their work doesn’t end there.
“Catholic schools provide an invaluable service to young people, their families, and our nation by helping to form women and men with the sharp intellects, broad perspectives and big hearts who bring their best to communities near and far,” Bishop George Murry, SJ, of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Catholic Education, said. “Jesus Christ came to change hearts and to serve—one person at a time—and so Catholic schools invite students to encounter Christ, to be changed by Him, and love God by serving others with all of their heart, mind, soul, and strength.”
The big question, of course, is how many Catholic schools accomplish this greater mission? Often we hear the statistics about graduation and college rates, which are good, but where is the evidence that Catholic schools are forming saints?
We look to the Catholic Education Honor Roll schools as models to be emulated throughout Catholic education, so that Catholic parents nationwide can be confident that their children are getting the best Catholic formation.
Why Catholic school?
Pamela Lyons, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, got it right when she answered an important question recently in a column for the Catholic San Francisco: “Why Catholic school?
“Catholic schools create educational opportunities that not only address the intellect, but of equal importance, the spiritual, moral, and social aspects of every child,” Lyons wrote. “The difference lies in our pursuit of academic excellence as a pathway to a greater good.”
She added, “I always tell our teachers that we are educating our students to change the world, by contributing to the Kingdom on earth, with their ultimate goal being entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
That’s what Catholic education is all about.
USCCB seeks to turn the tide of Catholic education
We all know the grim numbers.
The National Catholic Educational Association reports 1,393 Catholic school closings or consolidations from 2007 to 2017, compared to just 287 school openings. In that same decade, enrollment declined by 19 percent to less than 1.9 million students.
Now, in an effort to “transform” Catholic schools, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Committee on Catholic Education, in a program sponsored by the University of Notre Dame, met with Catholic education leaders and dozens of bishops to discuss turning the tide.
Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the bishops’ education committee, said that talk of academics and discipline, while important, was not enough without also considering the importance of “preparing the whole person for college and for heaven,” according to CatholicPhilly.com.
We live in “a very secular society, and fewer and fewer people see the value of that spiritual development,” Bishop Murry said. “I think that becomes the task of evangelization. Just programs to get people into church are not enough. We have to change hearts.”
That all sounds wonderful. But wait—sponsored by the University of Notre Dame? The hypocrisy is striking.