In this ever-changing world, the 111 Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati are constantly updating their curriculum, incorporating new knowledge, and adopting new methodologies and technologies to teach more effectively. At the same time, however, our schools are anchored in the Church’s timeless and unchanging faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our faith is the fundamental reason Catholic schools exist.
Pope Benedict XVI reminded us in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est that “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical teaching or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” That person is, of course, Jesus Christ. The Catholic school difference, therefore, is not just fidelity to Catholic teaching in religion classes, access to the sacraments, and the presence of priests and religious on campus – although those are important. There is also present in each school a Catholic spirit of peace, joy and the fullness of life that comes from following the Lord. They have been radiating Christ since the first Catholic school was founded in Cincinnati with 25 female students in 1825. We now have nearly 40,000 students and are the fifth largest Catholic school network in the country! But our mission remains the same: Our schools are centers of formation as well as education.
The crucial role played by school principals, teachers and staff also has not changed. The Church has long understood that teaching is a ministry because Catholic schools exist to witness the love of God in Christ. St. John Baptist de la Salle, who founded schools for the poor in France in the late 17th and early 18th Centuries, was very clear about this. In a meditation for his teachers, who were not ordained, he wrote: “In your teaching, the [children] in your charge must see by the way you teach that you are true ministers of God, full of charity and sincere in carrying out your task.”
While faith is marginalized in our culture today, Catholic school teacher-ministers and principal-ministers are rightly expected to stand as models of faith in the classroom and outside of it. And at this time of great social, political and racial division in our country, they are to witness to the Lord every day by their devotion to the common good. They are to live, as well as teach, such important Catholic truths as the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death, the importance of marriage and family, the rights and responsibilities of every individual, the option for the poor and vulnerable, the dignity of work, solidarity and care for creation.
The very nature of authentic Catholic education is the search for goodness, beauty and truth and the cultivation of wisdom and virtue under the guidance of the Church. The various arts and sciences are pathways for growing closer to God since students learn in these the endless wonders of His creation. A passion for learning is thus a passion for Jesus Himself, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Catholic schools play an important role in forming disciples to know, love and follow Jesus through this life and into the next.
All educational institutions faced an incredible pandemic-created challenge during this past school year. The performance of school administrators and faculty in keeping our schools safely open for on-site learning was remarkable. I am profoundly grateful to them, to the parents who trusted Catholic schools to keep their children safe, and to parishes which continued to support our schools. Whatever new challenges the future may bring, Catholic education will continue to be a vital ministry of the local Church as the Archdiocese of Cincinnati enters its third century.