“Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service,” is the theme chosen for Catholic Schools Week, 2015. Our schools are Catholic communities that have at their core the person of Jesus Christ. The following known quote says it well: “Let it be known to all who enter here that Jesus Christ is the reason for this school, the unseen but ever-present teacher in all its classes, the model of its faculty, and the inspiration for its students.” This quote resonated so much with me, that as a first-year principal I posted it in numerous locations in my building.
Christ is the primary reason for our schools, though many desire to enroll in our Catholic schools because of excellence in academics, or athletics or the arts. More succinctly, the schools in our diocese are Catholic schools of excellence where each child is challenged to grow in knowledge, wisdom, faith and love in imitation of the person of Jesus Christ. Our Lord Jesus Himself is at the very center of our schools, as a means of continuing His very own mission of proclaiming the Gospel.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2005 expressed strong commitment to Catholic schools when they stated, “Our vision is clear: Our Catholic schools are a vital part of the teaching mission of the Church. …We must respond to challenging times with faith, vision and the will to succeed because the Catholic school’s mission is vital to the future of our young people, our nation and especially our Church.”
In his address to Catholic educators in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI stated, “Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the good news. First and foremost, every Catholic institution is a place to encounter the Living God, who in Jesus Christ, reveals His transforming love and truth.”
Our schools are at the very heart of the evangelizing mission of the Church because they are called to proclaim the “Good News” of the Gospel to all — to the children who attend, to the parents of those children, as well as their surrounding communities. Especially in our world today with its secularism and many difficulties, we need strong Catholic schools ready for the Holy Spirit to strengthen the lives and faith of children and families. As articulated at a recent Synod of Bishops, “If evangelization is to be true to itself, it cannot take place apart from education; it is directly related to it.”
Catholic schools, today especially as they have the opportunity to reach many more students and families through School Choice Scholarships, have a critical choice. The key, as noted by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, is “that we do not see faith and excellence as an either/or but embrace both as we plan for every aspect of Catholic education, with our faith being the foundation and the inspiration for all school programs and activities.” Our faith is the sturdy framework around which everything else is integrated: a challenging curriculum rooted in Gospel values and Catholic teachings, the sacraments, liturgy, prayer, religious instruction and service experiences. If it is truly effective, the religious education and faith formation touches all members of the school community — students, parents, teachers, administrators and staff — forming them in the way of holiness.
“Jesus is the unseen but ever-present teacher in all its classrooms” means that religion is not just another subject in a full curriculum. It is a way of life that is taught by word and example. In the “Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools,” Archbishop J. Michael Miller writes: “The Gospel of Jesus Christ and His very person are to inspire and guide the Catholic school in every dimension of its life and activity — its philosophy of education, its curriculum, its community life, its selection of teachers, and even its physical environment. Christ is the Teacher in Catholic schools,” not “fitted in” but rather the school’s vital principle that guides every part of the community of faith.
Jesus Christ is the “model” for the teachers and administrators who are committed to helping prepare students relate the Catholic faith to their culture and to live that faith in practice. Teachers and administrators in the Catholic school serve as vital witnesses of our faith and have the tremendous responsibility of creating a school environment that ensures that the school achieves its purpose. Archbishop Miller further writes, “The Holy See’s documents pay a great deal of attention to the vocation of teachers and their participation in the evangelizing mission. The nobility of the task to which teachers are called demands that, in imitation of Christ, the only Teacher, they reveal the Christian message not only in word but also by every gesture of their behavior.”
All Catholic school teachers and administrators are well aware that they are in a privileged position of having the opportunity to model the faith and guide both students and parents, directly and by example. Further, they do so while acknowledging that they, too, are continuing to grow in their journey of faith. A model is an ideal to be strived for each day. Catholic educators and their students strive each day to model the ideals of Jesus provided through the words and teachings of His public ministry. In acting with love, compassion and forgiveness, others may come to know and understand Christ more fully.
Finally, Christ is the “inspiration for our students” in all they do. The word inspire in Latin means, “to breathe life into.” Putting Christ at the center breathes life into every facet of the Catholic school — the work of teachers, administrators and students, the daily experiences of faith and sacraments, the outstanding academics, arts and athletics, and the family atmosphere that nurtures them. The Holy Spirit is clearly present and manifested in countless ways within the school.
As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week 2015, we offer gratitude to the many parents past and present, who have entrusted the treasure of their children to the care of Catholic Schools. We offer a prayer of thanks for the work of our predecessors, priests and lay people, who established the firm foundation of Catholic schools from Fort Wayne to South Bend. Finally, we offer sincere gratitude to the 1,400 teachers, administrators and pastors who daily accept the call to lead the 42 schools of our diocese with the constant assurance that Jesus Christ is with us as the “unseen but ever-present teacher.”
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