What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: January 29, 2009
I’m going to school this week! Actually I will be going to three different schools and a Catholic Schools Mass and banquet at the end of the week. This is Catholic Schools Week, and my calendar is filled with events to mark this special time of year. As most of you know, the time that I spend with our kids is one of the things that I love best to do. The children bring much joy to my day, and the interchanges that I have with them often bring laughter to my heart and insight to my spirit.
So I will celebrate Mass with Our Lady of Victory, Queen of Angels and Christ the King Schools during this week whose theme is “Catholic Schools Celebrate Service.” Catholic schools in the United States are a treasure and have provided the foundation of faith and service for countless millions of Catholics in this nation. Many adults have cherished memories of sisters, brothers, priests and lay teachers who taught, formed and encouraged them as youngsters in parochial schools across our country. Some adults—like me—entered the Catholic Church via a Catholic school in some neighborhood.
Many of us also have the sad memories of learning that a beloved Catholic school that had served us or our families was closing because of changes in demographics, deterioration of buildings or, often, financial strain. Bishops everywhere have had to face the angry letters and confrontations that often accompanied the announcement of the closure of a venerable parochial school—as though the bishop callously wanted to or decided in a cavalier fashion to shutter a school.
The first three Plenary Councils of Baltimore in 1852, 1866 and 1884—an earlier forerunner of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference—each made reference to Catholic schools, encouraging every parish to have a Catholic school, for all Catholic parents to send their children to such parish schools, to have parishes provide free tuition for these schools and for all available religious to staff these schools. Obviously not every decree was universally achievable, but these meetings of the bishops of the United States indicated the strong early support of Catholic schools.
Here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, our strategic planning process has a specific component and a procedure for reviewing our Catholic schools, and I now await their recommendations. Catholic schools today depend upon the generous and zealous service of our lay staff, much like the Catholic schools of the past depended upon the magnanimous service of religious men and women. Tuition for our schools is very high and well beyond the ability of too many of our people. We continue to try to find ways to provide fiscal assistance to those families who would choose Catholic schools for their children. Much more needs to be done.
While we here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta are not often confronted with the closure or merger of a Catholic school, we do need to find more equitable ways of providing for their financing and of making them more accessible to those of limited financial means. Catholic schools need to serve the full spectrum of our people as well as those who may seek a Catholic school education for their children even if they themselves are not Catholics. Catholic schools are blessings for a community because they bring faith and learning into the same classroom for children who are fortunate enough to enjoy this opportunity.
I love visiting our Catholic schools—whether during Catholic Schools Week or throughout the year. These institutions of faith and learning remind me of the Catholic school that I attended in Chicago that eventually led me to the baptismal font.