April 18, 2023 // Bishop

Catholic Educators Gather to Honor Excellence

The following message was delivered by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades during the You Can Lend A Hand Luncheon on Thursday, Apr. 13, at the Grand Wayne Convention Center in Fort Wayne:

Happy and Blessed Easter to everyone. As Catholics, we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, the crowning truth of our faith, not only for one day, Easter Sunday, but for eight days — the Octave of Easter. It’s a joyful time for us to celebrate this luncheon in which we honor our teachers, principals, and benefactors — today, Easter Thursday.  Congratulations to all our award recipients! My personal thanks to all of you for your commitment to the noble and holy task of Catholic education.

This occasion is also an opportunity to express our gratitude to Dr. Joe Brettnacher on his upcoming retirement. Dr. Joe — we thank you for being such a great leader of our Catholic schools, for your untiring work to promote the Catholic mission of our schools, and for your faithful and devoted service to our diocese as superintendent of schools. Your educational expertise, your positive spirit of servant leadership, your assistance to our principals, and your faithful witness to Christ, have been a blessing to me, our school communities, and our diocese. We will miss you. Our deepest thanks and our prayers as you prepare for retirement! (And if you get bored in retirement, you’ll be first on the list when we have a principal opening!).

I am also very grateful to David Maugel for accepting the offer to become our new superintendent of schools, and to Jeff Kiefer and the staff of our Catholic Schools Office for their excellent service to our 43 Catholic schools. We are truly blessed to have such a competent, hard-working, and committed team serving our diocese and our mission of Catholic education.

Many thanks also to Dan Fitzpatrick, the Fitzpatrick family, and Quality Dining for providing this luncheon for us every year. Your generosity to our Catholic schools in this and many other ways is greatly appreciated. We all miss Deacon Jim and pray that he is with the Lord in the eternal glory of heaven. He was always such a wonderful presence at these luncheons. There are many occasions the last several months when I have felt Jim’s absence and now again today. These occasions lead me to not only remember Deacon Jim in my thoughts, but also in my prayers. So please join me in a brief prayer for Deacon Jim: “Eternal rest…”.

You may have read or heard about the wonderful book by Msgr. James Shea entitled “From Christendom to Apostolic Mission.” The Preface begins with a brief quote from Pope Francis to the Roman Curia some years ago: “Brothers and sisters, Christendom no longer exists.” Back in 1974, Archbishop Fulton Sheen said at a conference: “We are at the end of Christendom. Not of Christianity, not of the Church, but of Christendom. Now what is meant by Christendom? Christendom is economic, political, and social life inspired by Christian principles. That is ending — we’ve seen it die.” But Archbishop Sheen was not a pessimist. He went on to say: “These are great and wonderful days in which to be alive … It is not a gloomy picture — it is a picture of the Church in the midst of increasing opposition from the world. And therefore, live your lives in the full consciousness of this hour of testing, and rally close to the heart of Christ.” Archbishop Sheen said these words 39 years ago and they are certainly even more relevant today. In the book “From Christendom to Apostolic Mission,” Msgr. Shea describes the shift from a culture that was largely defined by Christianity to a new Apostolic Age, in which we must go forth like the original Apostles and make our case to a broader community of nonbelievers. What does this mean for our Catholic institutions to move from Christendom to Apostolic Mission? It means we need to have an evangelizing focus in our institutions, including our schools. Our schools should be engines of evangelization. This is happening in many of the schools of our diocese, evident in the number of Catholic school students and families who entered into full communion in the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil last Saturday night. And next Tuesday, I will be baptizing six students at Saint Joseph High School and receiving one student into full communion in the Catholic Church.

Photos by Joshua Schipper
Above, Mathew Tsuleff received the Monsignor J. Lester Award which honors commendable individuals who serve Catholic schools and the diocese. Below, Vanessa Diller, principal at St. Louis Academy, received the Saint Mother Théodore Guérin Award given to an administrator of one of the Catholic schools of the diocese at the You Can Lend A Hand Luncheon.

Evangelization is at the heart of the mission of our schools — transmitting a living and vibrant Catholic faith to our students. As you may know, one of my priorities as bishop regarding our schools is working to ensure that a Catholic worldview informs academic instruction in every subject area. Our mission cannot and must not be reduced to a daily religion or theology class or even just a Catholic ethos in the school. We need Catholic Academic Integration, what some involved in the renewal of Catholic education in our country call “curriculum permeation.” In the midst of today’s cultural challenges, we need to cultivate a consistent and coherent Catholic worldview in ourselves and in our students. This includes education in Christian anthropology. This is fundamental to our mission in the face of our culture’s drift into serious errors about the nature of the human person, marriage, gender, and sexuality.

Goal-setting is an important part of strategic planning. Our goals in Catholic education are not merely temporal, but eternal. We aim to cultivate our students’ relationship with God. We seek to form them as disciples of Jesus Christ who put loving God and one another first in their lives. We prepare them to be successful in the world, but not always in the ways that the world measures success. We teach them to worship God, not the idols of this world.

Students from St. John the Baptist School, Fort Wayne, provided choral accompaniment during the You Can Lend a Hand Luncheon.

How do we measure success in accomplishing these goals?  In the areas of academic performance, of course, there are various means — exams, standardized tests, etc. We can measure success in athletics and other activities by performance. But ultimately, I measure the success of our schools in another way. The question I ask is: are we graduating young men and women of virtue and good character? There’s a new book just published by OSV entitled “Educating for Eternity” by Dr. Brett Salkeld, a Catholic educational leader in Canada. He describes Catholic school success according to what our graduates become. He writes: “A Catholic education has succeeded in the patient and gentle parent, the faithful spouse, the generous neighbor, the just employer, the honest politician, the humble public figure, or the person who can be free in difficult relationships because they know their own value and dignity. A Catholic education has failed in the case of the person with all the trappings of worldly success whose inner life is a desert, whose relationships are superficial or exploitative, and who, in the final analysis, is neither free nor happy.”

Catholic education is fundamentally an education for truth and freedom. The Church teaches that in Catholic schools, students should encounter Jesus and His love. They should encounter the faith in all its beauty and intellectual richness and also learn and embrace the radical demands of the Gospel. It gives me much joy when I see this happening in our schools. It gives me even greater joy when I see our graduates living the truths and values of our faith, living good and happy lives, bearing witness to Christ in our post-Christian culture, and attracting others to the faith. They live as apostles on a mission, the mission they absorbed and experienced in our schools. Of course, this only happens when we have teachers and administrators in our schools who have embraced that mission, like those we have honored today.

Thank you all for your attention and thank you for all you do to support our Catholic schools!


Click here for more photos from the luncheon.


* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.