Catholic education goes beyond academics, Notre Dame president says

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
January 25, 2018

The reason Catholic education succeeds is that it forms the whole person, intellectually, morally, socially and spiritually, said Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame.

Jenkins — a proud product of Catholic schools in Omaha, Nebraska — was preaching to the choir at the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Celebrating Catholic Education Breakfast at the Chicago Hilton & Towers Jan. 23.

The breakfast raised money for educational innovation with the proceeds from tickets and with a “text-to-give” opportunity. That effort generated more than $35,000 in donations in 10 minutes.

Jenkins said the Catholic schools he attended, including Notre Dame, provided an academic education equal or superior to that offered by public schools, but it was the ways they went beyond academics that made the most difference.

“They instilled in me a sense of self-discipline and self-control which are critical to success in any walk of life,” Jenkins said, noting that while his parochial elementary school had large classes taught by sisters who were strict with behavior, he has no “Catholic school horror stories.” “It was a happy place.”
Catholic schools teach students how to function as part of a community, helping others and accepting help in turn, he said. 

“Most people struggle because they don’t know how to work effectively with other people,” Jenkins said. “Catholic schools offer something more. They make us people who can rely on others and be of service to others.”

The greatest gift Catholic education provides, he said, is teaching students “to discern the presence of God in their lives and to know the joy of knowing Jesus Christ.”

The University of Notre Dame has become a huge contributor to Catholic education with its Alliance for Catholic Education, which has recruited and trained more than 2,000 Catholic school teachers since 1993. It offers several programs to teach and to form leaders of Catholic schools — programs that have benefited many schools in Chicago. Nationally, ACE teachers or administrators have served in one out of four Catholic schools.

Jenkins said he is proud of the help ACE has given to schools, but he does not take credit for the schools’ success.

“The real work is done by you,” he said to the assembled supporters, teachers and principals of Catholic schools.

Jenkins headlined a list of speakers that included Cardinal Cupich, who also was educated in Omaha Catholic schools; Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese; McKenna Corrigan, principal of St. Genevieve School; and Geno Fernandez, the new chairman of the archdiocesan school board.
Fernandez, who has three children in Catholic schools, said his reasons for choosing Catholic education echo the list of benefits Jenkins offered.

“I knew they would receive care for the whole person,” Fernandez said.

Corrigan, who participated in ACE’s Center for Transformational Educational Leadership, told the story of a third-grader at St. Genevieve named Alex. Alex started in kindergarten, the child of a single mother who sacrifices to pay tuition, not speaking very much English but very committed to her son’s education. When she took him to a Mass celebrated by Bishop Alberto Rojas, he stood up and pointed at the bishop in the sanctuary and said, “That’s what I want to be when I grow up.”

Now in third grade, Alex is a top student, fluent in both English and Spanish, Corrigan said.

Cardinal Cupich used the breakfast as an opportunity to remind supporters that the Illinois Invest in Kids Act allows state residents to receive a 75 percent tax credit for donating to private scholarship funds that help families who choose non-public schools. The funds can take in $100 million a year; so far, just under $45 million has been donated.

At the same time, the cardinal reminded low- and moderate-income families that they can apply for the new tax-credit scholarships, which can provide up to 100 percent of private school tuition.

“One of the most important decisions  parents make for their children is where they will go to school,” Cardinal Cupich said. “We want to make sure all parents have that decision-making power.”


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