PROVIDENCE — On January 28, Catholic schools around the country will kick off Catholic Schools Week, a celebration of the culture and contributions of Catholic schools in the United States. In the Diocese of Providence, more than 35 Catholic schools will commemorate the week with Masses, spirit days, open houses, faculty appreciation days and an outpouring of support for the people who make Catholic schools faith-filled places to learn and grow.
According to the National Catholic Educational Association, Catholic Schools Week has been observed since 1974, when it was founded as an opportunity to celebrate Catholic education and share its contributions with the community. This year’s theme, “Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.” highlights the combination of spiritual, academic and moral teaching that makes Catholic schools unique in education.
“Catholic schools are the greatest legacy of the American church,” said Daniel Ferris, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Providence. “They’ve done more for Catholics in this country than any other cultural institution, and we celebrate that gift today.”
During a meeting with principals and administrators on January 10, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin shared the impact of Catholic schools on his own family, including his mother, Mary Tobin. Though baptized as an infant, Mrs. Tobin did not receive her other sacraments or become strong in her Catholic faith until health concerns prompted her parents to enroll her in Divine Providence Academy, administrated by the Sisters of the Divine Providence in Pittsburgh.
“It was because of her exposure to Catholic schools that her faith grew. [Her faith] was planted and nourished and then of course handed on to me and the rest of our family,” said Bishop Tobin. “It’s just a reminder for me of how important Catholic schools have been in my life.”
Responding to questions from administrators, Bishop Tobin encouraged school leaders to consciously promote their schools’ Catholic identity and serve as witnesses of the faith in their own lives and interactions with students, faculty and staff.
“The reason for being for our Catholic schools in the beginning and the end is to continue the mission of Jesus Christ, to hand on the gift of our faith to a new generation of believers and their families,” he said. “It’s up to our Catholic schools to be sure they are totally and completely Catholic, explicitly as well as in fact.”
Bishop Tobin also responded to questions about how to continue to promote the Catholic faith among a population of students who come less and less from a Catholic background, both due to the secularization of American society and increasing numbers of international students in Catholic high schools, many of whom come from countries with little experience of the Catholic church.
“It gives us an opportunity for evangelization,” said Bishop Tobin, praising the diversity international students bring to the Catholic school system. “When you have international students, are you making a conscious effort to share our Catholic faith with them? To evangelize? If you have non-Catholics and especially non-Christians, is there some conscious way that you can get them involved in the life of the church?”
Ferris added that while doctrinal formation is an important part of teaching the faith to students, even more foundational to Catholic education is ensuring that students have a personal encounter with Christ through their teachers, administrators and classroom experience.
“Every child has an innate yearning for God and we need to meet children where they’re at,” he said. “We need to let them know that Jesus cares about them.”
Ferris noted the importance of Catholic Schools Week for celebrating the people who dedicate themselves to Catholic education, including pastors, principals, faculty, parents, volunteers, students and staff. Many schools will host appreciation events this week to recognize the contributions of these individuals.
“It’s recognizing the people who give so generously and sacrificially for Catholic education,” said Ferris.
In addition to recognizing supporters and celebrating the school community through spirit days and sporting events, many schools also plan to reach out to their local communities through schoolwide service projects. At St. Rocco School, Johnston, students will collect items for a pro-life baby shower for mothers in crisis pregnancies, while at St. Pius X School, Westerly, students plan to create blankets for the Ronald McDonald House and collect bottled water for victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
Many schools also plan to recognize those who have made a difference in the lives of students and in their school and church communities. At Father John V. Doyle School, Coventry, students will bring in small gifts and cards for their seminarian prayer partners, while at All Saints Academy, Middletown, administrators have invited parents who serve in the military to attend a schoolwide Mass in uniform. Several schools, including St. Philip School, Greenville, and St. Margaret School, Rumford, will welcome family at “Grandparents Day” celebrations.