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

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:




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COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”