Year of Discernment: Catholic schools embark on a mission of renewal

Elias Moo

The Catholic Church, by virtue of her Divine charter by our Lord Jesus, is essentially a teaching organization. Teaching and educating is part of her task of saving souls. Indeed, Catholic education is an integral part of the Divine Charter given by Christ to “go and make disciples of all nations” following the redemption of humanity won by him through his death and resurrection. It is why the Church has been at the forefront of education for centuries, responsible for the formation and sustaining of some of the world’s greatest educational institutions. 

This past fall, the Office of Catholic Schools released to the community School of the Lord’s Service, A Framework for Forming Disciples in Catholic Education. In the introduction of the document, our Archbishop, Samuel J. Aquila noted, “Forming disciples is the mission Jesus gave the Catholic Church and by extension our Catholic schools. It must be our constant reference by which we can judge our true success.” Archbishop Aquila’s deepest desire for the Archdiocese of Denver is that it become an even more animated place where all can come to experience a deep, transformative personal encounter with Jesus Christ and experience the fullness of abundant life.  

This mission is precisely why five years ago, he convened a symposium to begin to look at the reality of our Catholic schools and to identify a path forward to strengthen our schools at the time. From the symposium came the vision of Worthy of the Name, from which, thanks be to God, we saw many fruits. Yet so much has changed in five years.  

We are living in a challenging and unprecedented moment in the history of our world, our nation, our Church, and our Catholic schools. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted in many ways the brokenness of humanity and our society, a brokenness that has long been present, but has risen to the surface due to the deep spiritual wounds of our nation and our communities. Similarly, the pandemic has highlighted the deep cultural, societal, and institutional challenges still facing our Church and our Catholic schools. These challenges have continued to escalate over many years across the country and in our archdiocese, and we must look deeply and critically at what is in front us. There is no doubt the landscape of our archdiocese, let alone the state of Colorado and the communities we live in have seen significant changes and that we find ourselves entering a new era in the history of our Church and as a nation. 

While the outlook may seem daunting and perhaps bleak at times as we consider all the challenges in front of us, Archbishop Aquila and I believe that we are being called as a Church and as Catholic school communities to lean courageously into the challenges in front of us to be a community of hope and encounter with the Lord. Our families, our communities, and our society need exceptional, mission-driven Catholic schools now more than ever. 

We are convinced that Catholic schools still hold the best vision for the education and formation of the human person. We also believe that the Lord desires to send us on mission in a way that will allow our schools to be a critical part of the Lord’s rescue force sent into this modern wilderness so that, in the name of Jesus, all might be rescued and have abundant life. Because of that, we are ready to double-down on this vision and seize this moment to commit to a deep renewal of purpose and of organization in our Catholic schools that will allow us to effectively respond to the challenges in front of us and boldly strengthen and activate our mission in renewed ways for a new age.   

It is why on December 9, 2020, Archbishop Aquila and the Archdiocese of Denver, under the patronage of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, announced a Year of Discernment to proactively study and analyze the current strengths, challenges, and opportunities of our Catholic schools and discern a plan for the continued renewal and strengthening of our Catholic educational mission. Changes or shifts in population, local economies, a new interest level among parents and other factors warrant consideration for study at the present time. 

This Year of Discernment will be a collaborative effort involving the entire Catholic school community, including our priests, school leaders and educators, parishioners, parents, and students, and will take place in three phases:

The first phase is the research of our reality. The archdiocese, with the support of three reputable consulting firms, has begun to conduct a thorough study and detailed analysis of the reality of our Catholic schools and the communities they serve. The study will culminate in a report on the demographic and financial situation of our community, along with the community’s needs, challenges, and opportunities.  

The second phase will involve an analysis and discernment of our reality where we will be grappling with key questions related to the purpose of our mission, asking the Lord to show us where we need to strengthen and renew it, and where we need to extend it in the years to come, discerning the question, “What more does the Lord need us to do?” 

The final phase will entail the development of a renewal plan that will be shared with the entire archdiocesan community approximately a year from now, laying out the vision for how the community will work together to strengthen and extend our Catholic educational mission and the key dimensions for the renewal of our schools. 

We ask for your prayers during this process and for us all to be open to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. May we all embrace Mother Cabrini’s missionary zeal as the animating spirit for the renewal of our Catholic schools in this new apostolic age, captured by her words, “I will go anywhere and do anything in order to communicate the love of Jesus to those who do not know Him or have forgotten him.” 

To be truly successful in this discernment effort, we need your help. Please consider taking a few brief minutes to complete the survey. Below you will find links to our survey which is available in three languages:

English:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ArchDioceseofDenver_2021

Spanish:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Archdiocese_of_Denver2021_ES

Vietnamese:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ArchdioceseofDenver_Vietnamese2021

Stay up-to-date: denvercatholicschools.com

COMING UP: From rare books to online resources, archdiocesan library has long history of service to students

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National Library Week, observed this year from April 4 to April 10, is the perfect occasion to highlight the essential role of libraries and library staff in strengthening our communities – and our very own Cardinal Stafford Library at the Archdiocese of Denver is no exception.  

Since 1932, the library has served as a religious, intellectual, and cultural resource for seminarians and students at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver.

As the library of the seminary, we are always responsible for the four dimensions of the priestly formation of our seminarians. The library is charged with being responsible to all the divisions of the Seminary: the Lay Division (Catholic Biblical School and Catholic Catechetical School), the Permanent Deacon Formation Division, and the Priestly Formation Division, said Stephen Sweeney, Library Director. 

In addition to being one of the main resources to the seminary, the Cardinal Stafford Library serves the needs of other educational programs in the Archdiocese of Denver, including the St. Francis School for Deacons, the Biblical School, the Catechetical School and the Augustine Institute. While the library is currently closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was previously open to anyone, giving people access to more than 150,000 books, audios, and videos. 

The Cardinal Stafford Library was named after Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, Apostolic Penitentiary at the Vatican and former Archbishop of Denver from 1986 to 1996. He was a dedicated advocate of the library and of Catholic education.

In 1932, the library was established by two seminarians, Maurice Helmann and Barry Wogan. While they were not the first seminarians to conceive the idea of establishing a library, they are considered the founders for undertaking its organization.  

Since its founding, the library has grown and compiled a fine collection of resources on Catholic theology, Church history, biblical studies, liturgy, canon law, religious art, philosophy, and literature. Special collections include over 500 rare books dating back to the early 16th century and many periodicals dating back to the 1800s. The oldest publication in the library is a book on excommunication published in 1510. The Cardinal Stafford Library is also home to various relics and holds bills personally written by some of those saints.  

Over the past few years, the library has undergone a process of beautification through various renovations that include improvements in lighting, flooring, and even furniture restoration. During these difficult times, libraries are doing their best to adapt to our changing world by expanding their digital resources to reach those who don’t have access to them from home. 

The Cardinal Stafford Library provides a community space; we subscribe to about 200 print journals and have access to literally thousands more through online resources available on campus computers, Sweeney added. “I have been the Library Director for almost 11 years. I absolutely love my work, especially participating in the intellectual formation of the faithful from all of the dioceses we serve”.  

For more information on the Cardinal Stafford Library, visit: sjvdenver.edu/library 

Featured photo by Andrew Wright