That first “Catholic school” had Christ as the Master Teacher, yet as students, those first disciples made their share of mistakes. This has been true though the centuries and is no different in our Catholic schools today.
Our schools are Christ-centered, but as human institutions there are mistakes made and challenges to meet. The Catholic school is a sensitive meeting point for the problems that plague society and is thus serving students and young people who experience the difficulties of the present time and are tossed about by today’s secular tsunami.
Despite challenges, our schools are navigating these troubles waters, and it is important to celebrate what is right with Catholic schools to affirm the success, importance and beauty of their mission. I would like to address three of many qualities that help exemplify “what’s right with Catholic schools.”
First is the rich deposit of social capital, the community of faith, at the core of our schools. There is enormous trust, cooperation, high expectations, cooperation and sacrifice attributable to the Catholic culture that connects our community. Our schools are built on long-standing traditions and time-tested approaches to the successful formation of the young that St. John Paul II spoke of in his 1994 book “Crossing the Threshold of Hope” when he wrote “they are searching not only for the meaning of life but also for a concrete way to go about living life.”
Unlike recent charter schools or other public schools, our charter goes back many centuries and is grounded in one authority, not a board or a business foundation, or the government. When the source of authority is Christ, the school becomes an apostolic ministry, an evangelizing community, and the community members engage in discipleship. This is a special gift in a society marked by an exaggerated pluralism which can undermine community identity and contribute to a growing marginalization of faith.
Second, our schools then become a learning community called to follow Jesus Christ, not unlike the first Christo-centric school. Rather than being a test-centered factory for education, our schools are a Christ-centered community for formation of the whole person, mind, body and spirit. Our rigorous academics consist of knowledge marked by the synthesis of culture and faith. This results not only in knowledge to be attained, but also values to be acquired and truths to be discovered.
The Catholic school learning community achieves high test scores, admission to good colleges, and successful jobs, but in addition to that, they acquire wisdom and truth through the lens of values informed by the Gospel, and this is something to celebrate in today’s society rampant with subjectivism, moral relativism, and nihilism.
Research also clearly shows that this learning community within a faith community has a positive influence on and success with disadvantaged students. The bishops state that, “Catholic schools are often the only opportunity for economically disadvantaged young people to receive an education of quality that speaks to the development of the whole person.”
Third, our Catholic schools help meet the exhortation of Pope Francis: I want things messy and stirred up. I want you to take to the streets. I want the Church to take to the streets, he has said. Schools are one effective way that we take the Church to the streets—doing rather than talking. An assemblage of parents and guardians, students, teachers and staff, administrators, priests, parishioners and benefactors provide witness to faith by investing their time, talent, treasure and energy to integrate learning and faith in the lives of our students.
This translates to thousands of community-contact hours each school year, taking to the streets as a vital part of the teaching mission of the Church. And yes, this can get messy and stirred up, just like those pioneering leaders of the New Testament Church, ordinary men not without their faults and shortcomings. Not scholars or rabbis; no extraordinary skills. Ordinary people like those attending, supporting and serving our schools today. Regular people to help carry out an exceptional plan. And that is something right about our Catholic schools.