Catholic schools have a well-deserved reputation for providing a high-quality, holistic education and producing successful, well-rounded young scholars. The most important thing about Catholic schools, however, is that they are Catholic. Our mission is not to just graduate scholars, but to form disciples who desire to know, love and serve Jesus in His Church.
Partnering with parents, our schools actively engage in radiating the love of Christ and instilling the Catholic faith as they prepare students for both this life and the eternal life to come. That is what we celebrate during Catholic Schools Week, which this year is observed the week of Jan. 30.
Our Catholic schools exemplify the Catholic Schools Week themes of “Faith. Excellence. Service.” Note that faith comes first, as it does in all aspects of the Catholic school experience. Catholic identity goes well beyond religion classes and crucifixes on the walls – although those are vital aspects of it. Catholic identity is found in curriculum, culture and campus ministry. As the mission statement of our Catholic Schools Office says, “Our schools are Christ-centered communities dedicated to the faith formation, academic excellence and individual growth of our students, all rooted in the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.”
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 as students learn the endless wonders of His creation. A passion for learning is thus a passion for Jesus, Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
“Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children,” as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says (CCC 2223). In that sense, the home is the first school of faith. Catholic schools exist to help parents in this crucial role. And in our local Church, the archdiocesan Catholic Schools Office exists to help schools by providing them with leadership, service, oversight and support.
My annual question and answer sessions with Catholic high school students from throughout the archdiocese during Catholic Schools Week confirms that our young people care deeply about their faith and witnessing to the world in which they live. Their sense of Catholic identity is formed in the hallways, in the cafeterias, on the playing fields and in the classrooms. It is on display as students engage in community service, mission trips, pilgrimages and the annual March for Life in Washington.
To ensure Catholic identity is strengthened in the midst of our increasingly secular culture, Joshua Agnew has been recently hired for the new position of Deputy Superintendent for Catholic Identity. He will lead a team charged with creating a compelling vision and holistic plan for pursuing the evangelizing mission of the Catholic Church in the 88 elementary and 23 secondary schools of the archdiocese.
Catholic schools come in many varieties – elementary and high schools; urban, suburban and rural schools; schools owned by parishes, the archdiocese, private boards and religious orders. Most, however, are parish schools. You may be wondering about the impact of Beacons of Light on our Catholic schools as our Families of Parishes go into effect on July 1. For parish schools, that is something that will be worked out over time within each Family of Parishes. Any future changes will only occur with a great deal of thought, input and planning.
Catholic education that forms body, mind and spirit is a great treasure made possible in our local Church by the sacrifices of every generation of Catholics since 1825 when the first parish school opened in the archdiocese. That is truly something to celebrate.