The annual observance of Catholic Schools Week, January 29 to February 5, provides our diocesan Church with a special opportunity to emphasize the important mission of Catholic schools, to renew our support of our schools and to express our profound gratitude to all who are generously committed to their success.
Although I have been the Bishop of Providence only a short time, I've been truly impressed by the Catholic schools in the Diocese, on both a secondary and elementary level. I have begun personally visiting our schools, and I hope eventually to visit every school of the Diocese. My visits thus far have been enjoyable, interesting and informative.
I have found that our schools are strong academically and rich in extracurricular activities; that they possess a lively spirit and are solidly grounded in the Catholic Faith.
My first impressions of our schools have been confirmed by the testimony of others. In the series of regional meetings I convened around the Diocese last fall, Catholic education emerged as one of the primary strengths of our Diocesan Church.
In supporting and promoting our Catholic schools, however, we need to keep focused on the primary purpose of their existence. During his 1987 pastoral visit to the United States, Pope John Paul described it this way: "The ultimate goal of all Catholic education is salvation in Jesus Christ. Catholic educators effectively work for the coming of Christ's Kingdom. This work includes transmitting in full the message of salvation, which elicits the response of faith."
"Salvation in Jesus Christ" - what a clear and compelling goal set forth for Catholic education, a challenge that should capture the imagination and energize the commitment of all who serve in our schools. This ultimate goal is realized by the achievement of three specific objectives in our Catholic schools: to teach doctrine, build community and motivate service.
The first objective of Catholic schools is to teach the doctrine of the Catholic Church. The transmitting of the objective content of our faith is the foundation upon which Catholic students will build their adult lives of faith.
The second objective of Catholic schools is to build community. It is very important that we call our students beyond the extreme individualism of our age and invite them into caring communities where they will learn about themselves, grow to their full potential, and discover the presence of God.
The third way in which "the message of salvation" is communicated is by motivating young people to service. Catholic teaching doesn't end with doctrine. If it did, it would be rather sterile. Catholic teaching doesn't end with community building. If it did, it would be rather self-serving. Catholic education finds its fulfillment in motivating others to service, a dimension clearly rooted in the life and ministry of Jesus Himself.
In short, Catholic education exists to impart the Character, Compassion and Values described in the theme of this year's Catholic Schools Week observance!
In applauding the achievements of our Catholic schools, we need to recognize also that Catholic education in the Diocese of Providence faces definite challenges, just as it does in other parts of our nation. These challenges include, but are not limited to: the declining number of available students in some areas; serving the needs of a rapidly changing population arriving in our cities; the thoroughly secular context in which we live; the decline in stable family units; and the need to provide adequate funding to maintain our schools. (Increased funding for our schools emerged as one of the chief priorities for the Diocese in the regional meetings of the laity already mentioned.)
Financial support of Catholic schools comes from several sources: parish and diocesan support, fundraising, and tuition. Because they come from voluntary contributions, however, Church resources are always limited. Even the best of fundraising has finite results. And many parents are already making heroic sacrifices to afford the increasing tuitions of our Catholic schools. Nonetheless, the increasing costs of education are real and have to be met!
It is my hope that the State of Rhode Island will develop new and productive ways of providing financial support for Catholic schools - as well as other private schools - perhaps through a tax credit program like that in other states. Wouldn't it be a wonderful example of bi-partisan public leadership if our Governor and legislative leaders could rise above partisan concerns and join together to support this cause that would benefit children and parents throughout the state, but especially in our cities where children and parents desperately need the well-documented strengths of Catholic education?
Finally, I take this opportunity to commend and thank all who are personally committed to the wonderful work of Catholic education in the Diocese of Providence: our priests and religious; Catholic school teachers, administrators, staff and volunteers; the staff of our Diocesan Schools Office; parents and students; and all the members of the Diocese and community who work together so well to support our Catholic schools. Your efforts on behalf of Catholic schools make a real difference. My prayer is that your work for Catholic schools will always be guided and inspired by the ultimate reason for their existence: Salvation in Jesus Christ!