Last year, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of our diocese with the theme “The Lord Has Done Great Things for Us; We are Filled with Joy” (Ps 126:3). Indeed, He has! We always have much for which we can be grateful, but this Thanksgiving, I am particularly grateful for the gift of Catholic education. If the numbers are correct, many Rhode Island families are grateful for the same thing. Data from the National Catholic Education Association tell us that nationwide, Catholic school enrollment grew by 3.8 percent in the 2021-2022 school year, the first such increase in twenty years.
More recent information points to what may be behind this trend: the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), released on October 24 of this year, indicate that across our country, scores fell in both math and reading for students in grades four and eight, the two cohorts who take the NAEP. According to Peggy Carr, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, the arm of the U.S. Department of Education that published the results, the declines in math were the largest on record. However, Catholic schools bucked this trend. Kathleen Porter-Magee of New York’s Partnership Schools and the Manhattan Institute pointed out that, were Catholic schools to be considered as a state, they would have had the highest scores on all four of the NAEP tests.
What remarkable success!
Still, more than academic progress is driving families back to our schools. In conversations with prospective families at Our Lady of Mercy School in East Greenwich, where I serve as principal, academics come up often but rarely do they come up first. Instead, I hear words like community, faith, love, and trust.
The last one may be the most important. In one conversation during the chaotic days of August 2020, when we announced that we would be attempting to open our doors in person for the new school year, I explained to a prospective family that I could not guarantee that we would be open in person; I could only guarantee that we were going to try. Their response: “We are just happy that you are trying.”
For Catholic schools, the time since March 13, 2020, has involved much trying — on the part of skilled and dedicated teachers, committed parents, and countless volunteers and donors who have helped us to fill the gaps that always exist in operations like ours that depend on charity to meet operating expenses. It has also involved a lot of faith, community, and love as we have discovered what extraordinary things we could accomplish together. Furthermore, it has most of all involved trust: the trust of our families in our schools and the trust of our schools that a good and loving God would see us through unprecedented challenges if only we stayed faithful to His will.
See us through He has and in ways that we could not have imagined. The Lord has indeed done great things for us. We are filled with joy, we are filled with gratitude, and we are filled with hope that these recent successes are only the beginning of greater things to come for Catholic schools and for the children of God that we serve.
Patrick McNabb serves as principal of Our Lady of Mercy School in East Greenwich.