In early October, I packed my bags and relocated to the Archdiocese of Chicago to become superintendent. For five years, I served as superintendent in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and previously worked as a Catholic school teacher, dean, principal and assistant superintendent. As I started my new duties, I felt confident that I knew Catholic education. I quickly learned that the Archdiocese of Chicago is unique. While Catholic schools everywhere share a unified mission, this mission is lived out distinctively in Cook and Lake Counties. Each January, our church puts aside one week to celebrate the history and success of our Catholic schools. As we enter this year’s Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 31-Feb. 6), I’d like to share three things, or “lessons,” I’ve learned that make Catholic schools here different. These lessons were acquired during my visits to more than 65 Catholic schools in my first four months as superintendent, and in my conversations with scores of students, teachers, parents and others. While I know I still have much to learn, all three of these lessons reflect the truly special Catholic school environment in the archdiocese. ‘Catholic schools are Chicago’ My first lesson is that Catholic Schools are Chicago. Our schools reflect the distinct cultural and racial diversity of the Chicago region. We welcome families of all races, religions and economic backgrounds through our doors. This is a great strength; while our Christ-centered mission and commitment to excellence is unwavering, each Catholic school possesses its own identity. This identity reflects the backgrounds and needs of the people we serve. As church, we have a particular heart for serving the poor and disadvantaged. Our schools serve a remarkable number of children in poverty. Like all families, these children need and deserve the best faithbased education possible. Our schools offer an avenue of hope, an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. Our mission to the poor is enabled through the generosity of many individuals and organizations who support Catholic schools, most notably the Big Shoulders Fund. The people of the archdiocese have truly made a commitment to serving all of God’s children. I wish every diocese in the country so staunchly made this commitment. Parent engagement My second lesson learned is that our Catholic schools are not just for those who attend. Our students clearly benefit spiritually, academically and emotionally from a Catholic education. One of the hallmarks of a Catholic education is parent engagement. We partner closely with parents and guardians, upholding them as the primary educators of their children. We offer not just a good education, but a support system for entire families. Our benefits extend beyond families to parish communities. Most of our elementary schools are ministries of a parish. The school brings life and vitality to each parish, drawing in young people. I’ve been struck by the pride felt by parishioners and alumni in their Catholic school. Chicagoans, even non- Catholics, often identify their neighborhood by the name of their local parish. The Catholic Church is truly part of the culture of greater Chicago. I’ve discovered such a sense of connectedness to our schools. Be they current students or alumni, people love their Catholic schools and remain loyal to them. Living out excellence My final lesson is that, in Chicago, we do not just pay lip service to excellence. The notion of excellence is part of the mission statement of every school (public and private). Our Catholic schools actually live out this excellence. The impact of a Catholic education upon our students is staggering. Our schools far outpace their public-school counterparts on any academic measure. We offer an education for the whole child, including rich classes in the humanities and arts. We are constantly innovating, taking the best practices and resources around us and putting them to work for our children. This excellence also extends to our Catholic identity. Our schools exist to bring children closer to Christ. We evangelize children and their families, driving them to know and understand God’s plan for them. Our faith is the secret to our excellence. Schools succeed in the archdiocese because Christ is at the center of every classroom. The Archdiocese of Chicago is known as the national hot spot for Catholic education. Not only are we the largest Catholic school system, but we set the standard for excellence and community engagement. We welcome all, educate all and transform all. As we enter Catholic Schools Week this year, I am confident that our schools will thrive. May our unique schools continue to bless our people for generations to come.