April 22, 2005

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Catholic schools give our children
a great education while building faith

For the 10th consecutive year, I was invited during Holy Week to pray the sorrowful mysteries of an early morning rosary with the students and faculty of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis.

I am impressed by the number of students who come for that early morning prayer. Our young people are on my mind because they need our extraordinary support perhaps more than ever before. You parents also need extraordinary support because we live in a challenging culture.

One way we adults can provide support for our youth is through our Catholic education programs. Next week, I will write about our efforts in religious education and faith formation. This week, I want to spotlight our schools.

A few weeks ago, we communicated extraordinarily good news about the achievement of our Catholic students in the statewide ISTEP testing program. We not only surpass scores in the public system, we do so dramatically; we also did more than hold our own with the best of other private schools in the state.

A national measure of the quality of our school system is the fact that last year five of our Catholic schools won a national “No Child Left Behind” Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Award. Only 50 private schools in the nation received that distinction. Five more of our schools are expected to achieve the distinction this year. Our schoolteachers and administrators work very hard to provide the best possible education for our youth.

Anyone who pays attention also knows that it would be an understatement to say that our students excel in competitive sports and other extracurricular activities associated with our high schools. They are held to high standards when it comes to the discipline required to succeed—and to learn the art of fair competition.

However, all of that being said, what distinguishes our Catholic schools is the fact that formation in the Catholic faith is a cultivated priority. Formation in our faith is even more important than excellence in academics or sports or other extracurricular achievements. The catechesis that our schools provide distinguishes us from other schools.

Some public schools are beginning to advertise that they offer “value-added” programs. I am not sure what they mean by this, but I am sure the offerings do not include instruction in Catholic religious doctrine and morality.

I have several concerns as I observe recent patterns in school enrollments. The obvious concern is that education in our schools costs. A bishop-friend often remarks that “friendship costs,” meaning that being a friend requires sacrifice—if not financial, there is the sacrifice of time. Being a friend means giving priority value to the relationship. Providing faith formation for our children costs.

I am deeply impressed by the sacrifices many of you parents make in order to provide Catholic education and formation for your children. You are giving a gift that will keep on giving, and it costs. So do teachers and administrators, whose salaries mean sacrifice.

I understand that it is impossible for some of you to provide Catholic education for your children without financial assistance. I, and many good folks, are working hard to make more financial assistance available for more of you.

I commend our parishes that not only “go the extra mile,” but even beyond in order to help those families whose resources are quite limited. We will continue to work hard to extend these opportunities even more.

I also realize there are places in the archdiocese where we have no Catholic schools, and you parents do not have the option of Catholic education for your children. I wish we could have more schools available. Our parish religious formation programs are all the more important for you and your families.

On the other hand, I am concerned about you parents who could make the financial sacrifices to provide a Catholic education and faith formation for your children, but choose not to do so. I want to encourage you to consider that the very meaning of human life has to do, ultimately, with our need for salvation. In a secular and materialistic culture, we need all the help we can get to help our youth keep a focus on the supernatural and their destiny in life. What values supersede our need for religious formation in the faith for the ­journey of life?

Where will our youth learn that our Catholic faith is distinctive in its emphasis on the importance of the sacraments and our lifelong participation in them for our ­salvation?

How can we help them understand that the popular religiosity of suburban “mega-churches” is not a substitute for the sacramental life established by Christ?

How do we help them realize that we can’t make it through life without the nourishment and strength received in the ­sacraments?

More in next week’s reflection. †  

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