Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Schools in the church’s mission

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 was Catholic Schools Week, and there were many celebrations. There is much to celebrate. The cost of the schools, which is certainly a burden, is always evidence of love at work. It costs about $600 million a year to run the schools of the archdiocese, which means that they collectively symbolize the magnificent generosity of many people. Generosity is a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who lightens our burdens by enlarging our hearts.

The primary benefactors of the Catholic schools are the parents and grandparents of the children who are the students. Many parents make great sacrifices in order to send their children to a Catholic school. The principals, teachers and staff also make many sacrifices to build up and sustain our Catholic schools. They do this out of love, a love for God and their students. This love is visible as teachers’ faces light up when talking about their students. The Schools Office, under Superintendent Dominican Sister Paul McCaughey and the School Board, under the chairmanship of Mr. John Croghan, give much time and share many talents in order to improve our schools. The pastors of the parishes that sponsor the schools and usually help to subsidize them are also primary benefactors of our schools, as are all those who enable the archdiocese to help poorer parishes and schools to continue their ministry. The Big Shoulders Fund has been, for many years, a reliable and generous instrument for collecting scholarship and other monies to strengthen the schools of the archdiocese, especially in the inner city.

Enlarging hearts is part of the purpose of Catholic schools, along with enlightening minds and shaping lives. The academic record speaks for itself. Students learn their lessons, of course, but they also learn how to live. This is because the most important lesson any of us learns is that God loves us. In a loving community, students are free to learn. Free of fear, at least in school, they can raise any question and pursue the most important topics: Who are we? Why are we here? Who is God? What is our eternal destiny? When a school cannot raise these questions and give evidence for answers to them, education is incomplete. Lives are the poorer for it.

Learning to live means learning to direct our desires rationally. Jesus was a man of desires, as are we all. With all his heart, Jesus desired to do his Father’s will, and he gave his life for the world’s salvation because he loves us. Our personal desires should be stretched, therefore, to meet God’s love for us. This requires an internal discipline that begins in the school of love that is the family and continues in Catholic schools. This human formation is derailed if the interior life formed by prayer to God and love of others is ignored. Then desire remains superficial, and life easily loses its overall purpose.

Pope Benedict XVI has sometimes spoken of “the ecology of the human person.” This means seeing each person as part of a network of relations, much as we now see the earth itself as a set of interconnected operations. The church speaks of “communion,” i.e., relationship, as the heart of God’s existence and ours. Schools should introduce students to the entire interconnected universe while training them to live with right purpose. Catholic schools can do this more adequately than any others.

In recent years, much study and effort have gone into examining and improving our schools. A new strategic plan sets out priorities and goals in clear fashion, with price tags attached. Not everything is perfect. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies, but that’s not new in the history of the church. An old friend who is a Scripture scholar, Oblate Father Frank Montalbano, recently wrote about the people St. Paul evangelized who then caused him grief: “the lazy idlers in Thessalonica; Euodia and Syntyche at Philippi; those paralyzed by the old ways in Galatia; the resentful at Ephesus; the mystics at Colossae; and especially the conceited spirit people at Corinth.” Sound familiar?

Besides ourselves, obstacles include lack of resources, changing demographics, administrative tensions, conflicts difficult to resolve to everyone’s satisfaction. But these are difficulties common to any great enterprise. The basic fact remains the generosity set out above.

Rejoicing in the record and noting the challenges, we must still ask about the schools’ purpose. Why are there Catholic schools? Because the church’s mission is to teach who Christ is and to show people how to love him and live with him. Catholic schools are part of the church’s mission in the world. Those responsible for the schools know this and act on it, for which the church is grateful. Every Catholic in the archdiocese can take pride in our schools, along with all the other means the church uses to fulfill her mission. God bless you all.


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