This week marks a ritual for all of us working in the mission of Catholic education across the United States. It is the national celebration of Catholic Schools Week that occurs just about this time each and every year. And while each diocese and each school chooses to celebrate in different ways, it might also be helpful if we reflect on why we celebrate a week like this in the first place.
The first and most important work of Catholic schools is to make certain that our young people are formed in the faith, Without question this is our number one priority every single day. Sure, we have to make sure that this happens in an academically rich setting, using the best tools of technology, and delivered by the most insightful teachers as possible. But when it comes down to it, the Church counts on us to enrich the lives of our young people in a way that no other educational setting can do by teaching, preaching and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’d say that’s one good reason to celebrate!
Perhaps some of you reading this have no children in Catholic schools, so how relevant is this week to you? Very! You see, the very existence of Catholic schools saves taxpayers across the country billions of dollars annually. Given the escalating costs of public education the average citizen should be pleased to see Catholic schools thriving. Each and every time a student enrolls in a Catholic school the state saves money. That is why we continually advocate across the country, at the state level and at the national level, to make sure that Catholic schools are receiving what we deserve so that we can continue to serve the United States in this most important educational endeavor. We could be the answer to many government officials’ prayers who continually call for educational reform. To them I say: Take a look at our model. Efficient. Academically sound. Proven Results. And, above all, graduates exposed to the Gospel values of service, compassion, and love for others. Not a bad workforce we are preparing, wouldn’t you say?
As a product of Catholic schools, a parent of 4 Catholic school students, and as the head of Catholic education for one of the largest archdioceses in the country, I must also encourage our parents to celebrate this week with us. The investments that you make in your children (what we call tuition) are investments that will pay dividends for life. It is not unusual anymore for a parent to ask a school leader, “What is the return on my investment if I send my child here?” Sure, we could go into the millions of dollars of scholarships that our students receive and show that the high school investment of $28,000 over four years landed a student a full ride to Villanova. And of course, we can track our graduates and show their success stories in the alumni magazines. But in the end, what we can and must show our current parents is that our number one priority is to make certain that their child comes to know, love and serve the person of Jesus Christ. And that is something that will pay dividends for life…and beyond!
Yes, there is much to celebrate this week but there is much more to celebrate all year-long as Catholic schools do this work each and every day. Our nation would do well to sit up and take notice of this most successful model of education and consider working with us more closely to achieve even better results. In Pennsylvania, we are most grateful for the tax credit model and for the many ways that the state helps us achieve our goals. But more must be done here locally and across the country. One week out of the year is simply not enough to highlight the work of Catholic education but it’s a start.