Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Are we turning our backs on our Catholic schools?

by Dr. Duane Schafer, for the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 11, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Admittedly, I am a Catholic school graduate who has worked as a Catholic school educator for 40 years. I watched our Catholic schools climb to over 5 million students in the 1960s and then drop to less than half that number today. I experienced and was part of a shift from Catholic schools staffed almost entirely by dedicated members of Religious orders to similarly dedicated and committed lay personnel.

Our Catholic schools have been the backbone of the U.S. Catholic Church for nearly a century. They have educated and formed our church and civic leaders throughout these many years, and I’m proud to say that I am a Catholic school graduate and a Catholic school educator.

In numerous statements throughout the last 35 years, the bishops of the United States have said repeatedly, “Of the educational programs available to the Catholic community, Catholic schools afford the fullest and best opportunity to realize the threefold purpose of Christian education among the children and young people” (“To Teach as Jesus,” 1972). In 1990 they again affirmed this statement (“In Support of Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools”), and in the summer of 2005 they stressed that “…Catholic schools play a vital role in the evangelizing mission of the Church (“Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary & Secondary Schools in the third Millennium”).

Furthermore, our National Catechetical Directory states, “The Catholic school forms part of the saving mission of the Church, especially for education in the faith. It is not simply an institution which offers academic instruction of high quality, but, even more important, is an effective vehicle of total Christian formation.” (2005)

This past April, when our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, visited the United States, he said, “Some today question the Church’s involvement in education, wondering whether her resources might be better placed elsewhere. Certainly in a nation such as this, the State provides ample opportunities for education and attracts committed and generous men and women to this honorable profession. It is timely, then, to reflect on what is particular to our Catholic institutions. How do they contribute to the good of society through the Church’s primary mission of evangelization?”

He also affirmed the Catholic school ministry with these words:

“It is an outstanding apostolate of hope, seeking to address the material, intellectual and spiritual needs of over three million children and students. It also provides a highly commendable opportunity for the entire Catholic community to contribute generously to the financial needs of our institutions. Their long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that they are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.”

Furthermore, he encouraged the clergy and Religious to renew their commitment to support our Catholic schools. “Here I wish to make a special appeal to Religious Brothers, Sisters and priests: do not abandon the school apostolate; indeed, renew your commitment to schools especially those in poorer areas. In places where there are many hollow promises which lure young people away from the path of truth and genuine freedom, the consecrated person’s witness to the evangelical counsels is an irreplaceable gift.”

So, if these statements and exhortations are all true, then why are parents choosing to send their children to public schools rather than Catholic schools? Why are so many parish priests hesitant to speak publicly in support of the Catholic schools in their own parishes? Why are parish pastoral councils and finance councils more often recommending that parish funds be refocused away from the support of Catholic schools to other parish ministries? Why does the burden of supporting our Catholic schools fall more and more on the shoulders of those parents who choose to send their children to a Catholic school? Why are we closing the Catholic schools that serve the poorer neighborhoods in our larger cities? Why are we, the Catholic Church of the United States, turning our backs on our Catholic schools?

These are difficult questions with complex answers, but it is not yet too late to address each and every one of these questions with a response that will ensure the future of our Catholic schools in this country. However, time is running out! If we want our Catholic schools to continue to live out their mission in our parishes throughout the next one hundred years, we must act now. “The burden of supporting our Catholic schools can no longer be placed exclusively on the individual parishes that have schools and on parents who pay tuition” (“Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary & Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium,” 2005). “The future of Catholic school education depends on the entire Catholic community embracing wholeheartedly the concept of stewardship of time, talent and treasure, and translating stewardship into concrete action.” The future of our Catholic schools depends on you and me. It is up to us to act today.

So what specifically can we do today? What can I do?

• Invite family, neighbors, co-workers, and friends with school-age children to consider a Catholic school for their children.
• Contribute your time, talent, and treasure to your parish Catholic school.
• Encourage your pastoral council and finance councils to establish a scholarship for families who are unable to afford a Catholic school education for their children.
• Leave a percentage of your estate to a particular Catholic school or to the Diocesan Catholic School Fund Endowment.
• Encourage your pastor to regularly speak to the parish community about the importance of Catholic schools in our Church.
• Encourage family and friends who are certificated teachers to consider teaching in a Catholic school.
• Write to your federal and state legislators requesting equitable treatment of Catholic school students and teachers in government programs.
• Invite Catholic school educators to speak at Church and civic group meetings (Knights of Columbus, Serra Club, Rotary, Lions, etc.).
• Finally, include our Catholic schools, the students, the teachers, the administrators and all those who support Catholic schools in your prayers each and every day.

Matthew tells us in Chapter 21 of his Gospel, “Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, if you have faith and do not waver, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,” it will be done. Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.’”

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