As we prepare for the celebration of the bicentennial of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati later this year, National Catholic Schools Week – Jan. 31 through Feb. 6 – offers an opportunity to reflect with gratitude upon the importance and success of Catholic education in the 19 counties of our local Church over the past two centuries.
Our visionary founding bishop, Most Rev. Edward D. Fenwick, took seriously his responsibility to educate his flock, preparing them for life both in this world and the next, and informing them about current events from the perspective of the Church. He therefore oversaw with apostolic vigor the founding of Cincinnati’s first Catholic school in 1825, a seminary in 1829 and The Catholic Telegraph in 1831.
That first school of 25 female students and two teachers has grown into our archdiocesan network of 107 Catholic schools with nearly 40,000 students from grades pre-K through high school and more than 1,600 teachers. Only a handful of other dioceses in the U.S. have more students in Catholic schools. While we celebrate this achievement, we also laud the more than 20,000 additional Catholic students in the archdiocese who receive instruction in the faith through parish schools of religion.
The Catholic schools in our archdiocese vary in many ways. There are elementary and high schools; co-ed, all girls and all boys schools; urban, suburban and rural schools; schools owned by parishes, the archdiocese, private boards and religious orders. What these excellent institutions have in common is their commitment to the holistic education and spiritual growth of each student so that graduates radiate the light of Christ, leading lives of virtue and helping to build a better and less divisive world.
This formation takes place in a community atmosphere that is welcoming and compassionate, as well as academically demanding. Our teacher-ministers model the faith to their students not just in the classroom, but in the entire Catholic school experience, including what happens in the hallways, in the cafeterias and on the playing fields. For this reason, I am pleased and impressed with the commitment of our school leaders and faculties to in-person learning during the ongoing pandemic, following the guidance of our Catholic Schools Office. Their dedication to their students is an inspiration.
Local and national Catholic schools have overcome many other challenges over the past two centuries. Even in the best of times, operating a school is a complex matter with many human and financial variables. The great legacy of Catholic education that we have in this archdiocese would not have been possible without the commitment and sacrifices of parents, volunteers, teacher-ministers, administrators, staff members, parishioners and religious orders over many generations. As archbishop, I am deeply grateful to all of them.
To radiate Christ means to witness Christ, not just to talk about Christ. Our Catholic school students know that, and they show it in the tens of thousands of volunteer hours that they collectively perform every year. In doing so they defend the life and dignity of the human person, which is the first principle of Catholic social justice. Just one example is the many school pro-life clubs that assist the work of pregnancy centers across the archdiocese.
Another form of witness is undertaken by the busloads of our students who have attended the March for Life in Washington each year to demonstrate their opposition to the unjust abortion regime imposed by the Supreme Court in its notorious Roe v. Wade decision of Jan. 22, 1973. I am proud of our students who have made this arduous trip.
COVID-19 will change our schools’ participation in the March for Life, as it has changed so much. Our Catholic schools, however, have not changed in what is most important: the mission they have pursued since Bishop Fenwick opened the first Catholic school only three years after the foundation of the Diocese of Cincinnati. Let us all celebrate Catholic Schools Week!