Celebrating Catholic Schools
I’m just back from the Philippines where I was privileged to take part in the International Eucharistic Congress. What an uplifting and inspiring week it was! The people were filled with a love of their faith, and a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. One striking feature was how well catechized the people were – a result of a vibrant Catholic school system there, that has the respect of all of Filipino society.
What good timing that I have returned home as we begin Catholic Schools Week. Anytime is a good time to celebrate our splendid Catholic schools. We thank God for them, and we thank all who make them what they are: our parents who sacrifice to send their children to them; our benefactors; our principals, teachers, staffs, volunteers, priests and parishioners; and, most of all, our “pearl of great price,” our students.
Since heroes such as our own St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John Neuman, and Archbishop John Hughes poured the solid foundation for our Catholic schools, keeping them strong has been – – and is – – a struggle, one well worth it, but a struggle the same. Culture, some politicians, and some in the public school monopoly have opposed us, and our Catholic parents and people have had to dig deep to support them.
Now, our Catholic elementary and high schools are a bit more solvent and secure than they have been in a long time: their value is unquestioned, even by our numerous opponents, and, because of regionalization, the financial strain is now shared by all, instead of the heavy burden on only the sponsoring parish.
However, we still no surprise, have challenges.
One is enrollment. Good news: the dramatic annual drops in enrollment, common the last half-century, have been eased and are less drastic; bad news: our enrollment still declines a bit each year.
The major problem for our Catholic schools is that most of our Catholic parents do not send their children there. We figure only 28% of our Catholic kids are in a Catholic grade or high school.
This needs to be said: if you’re looking to blame somebody or something when a Catholic school sadly closes – – and the “blame game” is usually less than helpful – – don’t blame the “mean old archdiocese,” the pastor, the teachers’ raises, or unfair government policies (okay, it’s alright to blame Albany). Blame low enrollment! The major problem we have is that too many parents choose, for whatever reason, not to send their children to our schools! We need more children, and we need to encourage our parents to seriously consider a Catholic education for their kids! Used to be that there were lines to get into our schools. With some exceptions, that’s no longer the case.
Which brings-up our second challenge: marketing. See, we’re still acting like our schools are so popular that we don’t need to promote them! Those days are over. Every school now needs creative and vigorous marketing, and, not just coffee, cups and t-shirts, but direct encouragement to parents to send their kids to us. And, since most parents will reply, “We’d love to send our children to our Catholic school, but we can’t afford to,” we also need to jack-up our financial aid and scholarships, which we are going to do.
Thirdly, we must re-enforce our Catholic identity. Yes, our schools are tops because of excellent academics; sure, our parents entrust their children to us because our schools are safe, loving, and emphasize discipline. But the reason our schools can rightly claim the above is because they are Catholic.
Ask yourself this: put aside our inner-city schools for a moment, where we do have thousands of kids whose parents are clamoring to get them in, if only they had a scholarship. If you are a parent in an area where the public schools are rather good academically, with the most modern facilities and all the “bells and whistles,” which would cost you not a cent – – since you’re paying an exorbitant tax for them! – – why would you choose to send your child to a Catholic school instead, where, granted the academics might be a bit better, but where you’d have to pay! Why?
The only answer is: because of the emphasis on values, character, virtue, responsibility, behavior, discipline, morals, prayer, faith, the Bible, the mind, heart, and soul.
In other words, because the school is Catholic!
I’m afraid for awhile we debited our Catholic identity, maybe to attract non-Catholic students (silly, since our non-Catholic parents are usually the ones most supportive of a religious environment), or maybe because we’re still reeling from the loss of the sisters, brothers, and priests.
All I know is that we have to be unambiguously faithful, not only in justice to our mission, but because it’s timely marketing.
So, our schools exist not just to help our students eventually get good jobs, but to get them to heaven; we have our schools not just to tell them about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and the Reverend Martin Luther King, but to tell them about Jesus, their Lord and Savior, the greatest Teacher of them all; our schools are worth it not only because they form our children to be responsible citizens of this country we so cherish, but to be members of the Kingdom of God, and to believe that God’s Son, Jesus, is alive and welcoming in His Church; our children learn not only poetry but prayer, and that freedom is not doing whatever you want but doing what you ought; our schools exist not just to teach our children the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, but the Ten Commandments and the eight beatitudes.
That, my friends, makes them worth every nickel we have to scrape-up to keep them strong.
Happy Catholic Schools Week!