Catholic Schools: Building Strong Foundations

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

Every building needs a strong foundation if it is to stand strong, straight and tall. A strong foundation – that’s the image that often comes to mind whenever I think about Catholic Schools.

Catholic schools provide a strong foundation on which students build the rest of their lives – successful lives, lives of faith.

Catholic Schools Week, observed January 29 to February 5 nationwide, provides a special opportunity to celebrate the achievements of our Catholic schools, to thank those who are involved in this ministry, and to affirm our commitment to Catholic education.

A few numbers might be interesting for you. According to our 2011-2012 School Directory, in the Diocese of Providence we currently have 35 elementary schools with approximately 8,700 students; and 9 high schools with approximately 5,300 students. Without a doubt it’s a large operation, but size is only the beginning of the story.

The theme for Catholic Schools Week this year is “Catholic Schools: Faith, Academics, Service,” words that summarize nicely the mission of our Catholic schools.

Catholic schools are, first and foremost, about handing on the Catholic Faith. Blessed John Paul II said that “The purpose of Catholic education is salvation in Jesus Christ.” Our mission is that simple and that profound. Everything we do in our Catholic schools is subservient to that ultimate goal.

It’s a special blessing that we are able to profess and practice our Catholic Faith in our Catholic Schools. In the Catholic school community young people learn the Gospel of Christ and the doctrine of the Church, they read the Bible, pray together, receive the sacraments, practice Catholic devotions and are challenged to live a moral life. Catholic schools students are immersed in the culture of the Church forming bonds that, hopefully will last a lifetime. In our Catholic schools you will find crucifixes, Bibles, statues and pictures of the saints, the Ten Commandments and, yes . . . even prayer banners!

Catholic schools are also well known for their academic achievements, offering a comprehensive and demanding program of classroom learning and extracurricular activities. Our young students perform well in standardized testing, the graduation rates are very high, and most graduates move on to excellent colleges and universities, or other worthwhile fields of endeavor, where they build on the foundations they have received and prepare to contribute to society.

Catholic schools also motivate our students to generosity and service, helping others in the name of Christ and sharing the gifts and blessings they themselves have received. How often I read about Catholic schools students volunteering in their parish communities, doing creative service projects, and reaching out into the broader community to assist their neighbors in need. These are Gospel-based habits that will form disciples of Christ committed to promoting justice, peace and compassion.

“Faith, Academics and Service” – the theme is an excellent summary of the meaning and mission of our Catholic schools and a reminder of why our schools are such a gift not only to the Church but also to the whole community.

It’s fair to say, I think, that our Catholic schools have already achieved many of the goals that our neighbors in the public school community are striving for – academic achievement, personal discipline, parental involvement, and successful outcomes. We know too that Catholic schools educate many students who are not Catholic, and we are proud to share the gift of Catholic education with them without bias. Thus our schools can also become excellent agents of evangelization.

In trumpeting the achievements of our Catholic schools we need to admit that schools in our diocese, as well as throughout the nation, face severe challenges. The Diocese of Providence has witnessed a number of school closings in recent years, always a sad and difficult experience. And some dioceses in this part of the country have experienced massive closings of schools – sometimes dozens of schools closed simultaneously.

The challenges facing Catholic schools are almost always the same – the downward spiral of changing demographics, declining enrollment and increasing costs – results in more declining enrollment and more increasing costs, until a school is no longer viable, no longer able to provide the resources needed to ensure that the students receive a proper education.

No one has yet found the magic potion, a silver bullet to help struggling schools survive, and a realistic assessment suggests that more schools will close in the future. And yet, all the members of the Church need to work together, to do all that we can, to help as many schools as possible not just survive but prosper, to make them as affordable and accessible as possible, and, most of all, to ensure that our schools are always faithful to their mission. It’s an important commitment for all of us. Think about it – how different our Church would be without our schools!

Finally, a word of very sincere admiration and appreciation to all those individuals who are committed to this mission – to the members of our Catholic Schools Office; to our pastors, administrators, teachers and staff; and to our parents, students, alumni and benefactors. Thank you for all you do – day in and day out – to support our Catholic schools and to carry on this wonderful mission of Christ and His Church. Remember, you are helping our students build strong and sure foundations that will last a lifetime and carry them, eventually, into eternal life!