Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
"Catholic Schools Week: A time to reflect on a rich and noble heritage"
by Bishop Blase J. Cupich
(From the Jan. 13, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)
“Why do Catholics have their own schools? Why go to all the trouble and spend all that money on something that is provided free of charge by the state?”
A high school student posed this question to me some years ago during one of my visits to his (Catholic) school. It is a good question. On the face of it, he makes a good point. The state allocates huge sums of money each year for public education and provides a solid academic program on all levels. Why should the Catholic Church bother with even trying to duplicate or compete with these efforts?
My response to him was simple: “We understand Catholic schools to be part of our mission; they have existed long before there was a public school system, and besides, we are good at it.”
The Catholic Church views her schools as more than institutions which grant degrees to students so that they can get a job. It values education beyond economic gain, more than a contribution to profitability. Schools according to our rich tradition hold “in trust” all the accumulated knowledge over the centuries about how to live the life God offers us and how to promote a culture that enhances living together in society. As sacred guardians of this heritage, our schools aim at preparing our students not just for a job, but for life here on earth, and life eternal. We aim at educating the whole person, who is called to love God with “your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.”
The New Testament writings give clear evidence that the early Church saw itself as an educational community, organized to pass on the faith, complete with teachers, curriculum, and a pedagogy. This educational tradition eventually gave rise to the first universities, offering instruction in the full range of arts and sciences. Even before the state took up the task of offering public education, Religious orders in a male-dominated society promoted education for girls and women, the poor and underprivileged. Again, the Church took up this task convinced that education of the whole person was part of her mission to bring people to God.
A review of annual test scores, college admission records and totals of scholarship awards easily makes the case that students in Catholic schools on a per capita basis perform at the highest levels. This is not to take away from the fine job that public schools are doing, but there is a consistency in Catholic schools which is not replicated elsewhere. Catholic schools maintain across the board very high standards, and do so at a fraction of the costs when compared to other school systems. Much of this lower cost is due to the generosity and sacrifice of our teachers and staff. We should never overlook that each year these fine women and men contribute to the education of our children by accepting lower salaries and taking on many added duties. In many ways, they are serving in the tradition of the Religious women and men, who built the Catholic school tradition in our country.
All of this leads me to suggest that we all take a moment this month to give thanks to God for all that we have received through our Catholic schools and the dedicated teachers and staff who have operated them. It is also a time to consider sending a note of thanks, even with a generous check, to the Catholic school in our city or parish, just to let them know of our support. It would also be a reminder to us that our Catholic Schools are a shared resource from which we all benefit, as they hold “in trust” a long and proud tradition of teaching which reaches back to Christ’s commission to the apostles, “go, teach all nations.”
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