Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Catholic schools are schools for life

Saturday, August 30, 2008

“Those who instruct many in the ways of justice will sparkle as stars for all eternity” (Dn 12:3).

This week, many thousands of students have returned to our parochial schools, to Catholic high schools administered by the archdiocese and by religious orders, to our seminaries and to other institutions of learning shaped by the Catholic faith. A new school year is a new moment not only for the students but also for their families, as well as for those responsible for the schools.

Catholics here and elsewhere are justifiably proud of our schools. The academic results speak for themselves; but, more importantly, lives are changed in ways that permit young people to live with hope and come to a developed sense of charity and justice. This happens because the schools are religious schools.

Religion is a way of seeing. Almost all religions recognize a realm of spirit that cannot be discovered by ordinary observation or even with a microscope or telescope. Spirit causes events to happen that cannot be explained by the laws of physics or chemistry. Historical religions, like Christianity, see how God, who is totally spiritual, intervenes in human history and reveals himself and his plans. This vision of things is much greater and more complex than what can be seen without religion. Without such a vision, human beings cannot have an adequate idea of who they are and what their life should be.

Religion is therefore also a way of acting and of living. Not only religions teach ethics; so do secular philosophies of life. Religions, however, teach a morality of purposes that are greater than any individual’s dream or any nation’s ambitions. Religions teach habits of life that are valid beyond temporal life and that relate us to the realm of spirit now and for eternity. The way of life handed on in Catholic schools complements and strengthens the way in which parents or guardians are raising the children in their home. When home and school share the same vision and support the same way of living, a child finds himself or herself more surely and is more secure in his or her life.

Catholic vision or doctrine and Catholic ethics or moral teaching make the fundamental difference in what is taught and counseled in Catholic schools. The curriculum is more ample and the community more universal than is possible in schools closed to religion. Catholic schools are free to raise all the questions young people and their elders can think of. Pastors, principals and teachers are to serve the students like their guardian angels. Teachers are not only knowledgeable in the truth, they are also called to practice the virtues of patience, zeal and, most of all, love.

Our schools are ministries of the parishes or the religious orders that sponsor them. The new archdiocesan superintendent of schools, Dominican Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, has taken in hand the academic reforms planned in the last several years, and we will see, I’m sure, even greater progress in many schools this year.

Paying for the schools remains a constant concern, especially for the parents who sacrifice so much to send their children to a Catholic elementary or secondary school. The parishes subsidize their schools, as religious orders help support theirs. Many donors contribute to the more than half a billion dollars it costs to run the schools each year. The Big Shoulders Fund contributes millions of dollars for scholarships for children in schools in poor neighborhoods, and the patrons from Big Shoulders take a personal interest in the management of many schools.

The entire Catholic community in Cook and Lake counties remembers these benefactors in prayer, especially at the start of a new school year. Society as a whole should be equally grateful, because those formed in Catholic schools take their place as responsible workers and citizens of this world.

Those who have gone through Catholic schools know how the schools prepared them for life. I hope that alumni of our schools will become more involved in them and help support them. Everyone’s life is the richer because of our Catholic schools. God bless you.


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