January 25, 2017 // Local

Catholic schools Week: Transforming students in heart and mind

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By Marsha Jordan

Marsha Jordan is the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

The theme for Catholic Schools Week 2017 — “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service” — encompasses several concepts at the heart of Catholic education. Our schools are not only communities themselves but also a part of the larger communities of home, church, diocese, city and nation. Faith, knowledge and service are integral components of a Catholic education, which has as its core aim to build up the body of Christ.

“Our Catholic schools exist to call our children and young people to greatness, this greatness of soul, to use their God-given gifts to do what is great in God’s eyes — to serve, to help, to give and build up the body of Christ,” Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades said in 2014.

True and faithful Catholic education is necessary today given the many crises of values in our country and world. While a secular education takes into consideration only life in this world, we know we are destined for so much more; we are destined for eternal life and eternal happiness.

“We need Catholic schools that build on solid values — values that renew the face of the earth. We need Catholic schools that situate us within the full truth of our existence and prepare us for beatitude in the eternal dimension. We need schools that concern themselves with forming humanly and spiritually mature persons, discerning people who want, and who are able, to use what they have learned only for good,” said Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, in 2015. And, as stated by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a good Catholic school should help all of its students toward the goal of becoming saints.

For 38 years I have had the privilege to serve in the life-giving and joy-filled ministry of Catholic education. Like many other teachers and administrators, I made a conscious decision to devote my career to Catholic education.

As Catholic educators, we know we are truly blessed to serve in a ministry that shares with parents the formation and transformation of the hearts and minds of young people. We also recognize that we, in turn, are formed and transformed by our experiences with students, colleagues and the communities of which we are a part. Each person we encounter teaches us something about ourselves and what it truly means to serve God, the church and one another. We recognize our call each day to be the face of Jesus to all we meet.

What are some of the ways that demonstrate our students being formed and transformed in heart and mind, and set on their path to heaven? Students tell us and show us daily, as evidenced by the following witness:

• “The daily prayer that is offered at my high school during the school day and in the classrooms has helped me grow spiritually; sharing it with other students has been a beautiful experience that I will take with me to college.”

• One student’s school “has been a great gift from God in my life! My school has helped me grow as a person in my faith, and I know my life will be amazing because I had this opportunity to attend a great Catholic school.”

• When asked, “To whom do you go when you are in trouble?” a high-school senior replies, “I take my concerns to confession and talk it out.”

• A classroom of 6-year-old first-graders stops at 12:15 p.m. daily to recite the Angelus perfectly from memory.

• A second-grader describes how his family takes food to the poor “because they have nothing to eat.”

• While making the sign of the cross, a first-grader suddenly realizes that the crucifix represents Jesus being nailed to the cross. “I don’t want Jesus to be hurt,” she says with tears in her eyes.

• Many students freely, and without reservation, elect to join the Catholic Church and be baptized and confirmed by Bishop Rhoades during his annual high school visits.

• Throughout the diocese, many students are involved in pro-life activities, Catholic Relief Services, community outreach and service to the poor and elderly.

• A high school graduate gives up an all-expenses-paid vacation and instead pays his own way on a 10-day mission trip to Honduras.

• When asked what he most appreciates about his Catholic school, a high school student shares comments both touching and powerful: “The teachers are all amazing, but especially the theology teachers. My faith has really been awakened, and I find myself falling more and more in love with Jesus every day. Yes, I will be prepared for college, but the deepening of my faith is the greatest gift of my Catholic education.”

There can be no doubt that our Catholic schools are serving as places for the formation of authentic Catholics with unshakable faith who are growing to become courageous builders of a better world on their path to heaven.

We ask all our parish communities to pray daily for the continued mission of our schools. Especially during Catholic Schools Week, please pray for teachers and staff members who daily witness and proclaim the Gospel to our students. These men and women truly are, in the words of St. John Paul II, “great gifts to the church.” Pray also for our predecessors, priests and laypeople who established the firm foundation of Catholic schools in our diocese. What a tremendous treasure they have given us!

Inspired by their example, may we continue to strive for greatness in all areas of our Catholic schools, making them the best they can be, with everything aimed at building up the body of Christ.


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