November 18, 2005

Author says Catholic schools provide outstanding ‘public’ education

Celebrating Catholic School Values dinner
raises more than $400,000

By Brandon A. Evans

During the annual Celebrating Catholic School Values Awards Dinner on Nov. 8 in Indianapolis, author George Weigel not only shared stories about the late Pope John Paul II, but also discussed the role that Catholic schools play in civic life. (Download a copy of his address)

Weigel is the author of the international best-selling biography of Pope John Paul II titled Witness to Hope and is a senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center.

The annual dinner, which honors notable Catholic school graduates with achievement awards, raised more than $400,000 for needs-based tuition assistance in archdiocesan Catholic schools.

More than $2.75 million has been distributed to students in need since the fundraiser began 10 years ago.

Vicki Perry, the event chair, said that more than 2,500 students have been given assistance, and called it “miraculous.”

“We’ve done a great job with 10 of these Celebrating Catholic School Values events,” Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein said. To have distributed so much financial aid to people in need is “quite an achievement.”

He added that he hopes the event continues well into the future.

“We all must work together as we have before and will continue to do to provide a quality education to those young people who want it, deserve it and desire it,” said Annette “Mickey” Lentz, executive director of Catholic education and faith formation for the archdiocese.

Catholic schools that truly do their job, Lentz said, are one of the most important things that the Church can offer to families.

Going one step further, Weigel said in his keynote address that Catholic schools benefit civic society by forming young students “into civil, tolerant citizens, capable of a robust engagement with fellow citizens who have different views, capable of disagreeing without being disagreeable, capable of making the great experiment of democratic self-governance work.

Listen to Weigel's address: Wave Format (20 MB) or Real Player Format (3.5 MB)

“Catholic schools are schools of virtue—of democratic virtue,” Weigel said. “Catholic schools form the kind of men and women who make America work because graduates of Catholic schools have a vision of, and a commitment to, the common good, to neighborliness, to civic responsibility, to a mature patriotism that cherishes America while holding America accountable to its highest ideals.”

He lamented the current terminology in the world of education that separates “public schools” from “private schools.”

In reality, he said, there are government-sponsored schools and independent schools.

“Catholic schools are ‘public schools’ in the finest sense of the term,” he said. “Catholic schools are preparing their students for active citizenship, which is a public good. Catholic schools serve a public purpose: the education of the next generation of citizens and leaders.

“And because they are open to others—especially the disadvantaged—who are not Catholic, Catholic schools serve the public good of educating the most vulnerable children in our society to become active citizens of this great republic. No one does this better.”

Catholic schools, Weigel said, are an “essential lifeline” for poor children and play a significant role in helping them “break the vicious cycle of poverty.”

He spoke about his own Catholic education in Baltimore, sharing stories about the religious sisters—and a lay woman—who provided the foundation of his early education.

“Nostalgia is always a suspect emotion,” he said, “but I don’t think it’s simply nostalgic to think that, in addition to what these sisters and lay women taught us academically, they also taught us that life is a matter of vocation, not simply career.”

Weigel said that his teachers conveyed to him a truth he later could find in the writings of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who said that “God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.”

In his elementary days, Weigel said, he could not have imagined himself writing an authorized biography of the Holy Father, yet when he found himself doing it, “I had the absolute conviction that I was doing precisely what God had put me in this world to do—and that is a conviction that I wish for each one of you, and for all the students who benefit from your schools and your generosity.”

He also congratulated the five individuals who were honored with awards during the dinner, as did Archbishop Buechlein.

“In today’s society, it is refreshing to see people recognized for their selfless dedication,” the archbishop said.

“I can’t thank Catholic schools enough,” said James Curtis, a member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis. He received a career achievement award.

Children, he said, need the ethics and morals that Catholic schools offer.

Msgr. Lawrence Moran, who retired earlier this year as pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Terre Haute, said that Catholic schools provide not only the traditional “three R’s,” but also offer religion.

Msgr. Moran also received a career achievement award.

He added, in an adaptation of a quote from Victor Hugo, that “I think for every religious school we build, we can tear down a jail.”

Paula Corley, a member of St. Matthew Parish in Indianapolis who received a career achievement award, said that as a public school principal she learned the values needed for the job from her Catholic education.

Corley thanked the archdiocese for the award and said that it was something she would cherish for a lifetime.

Tom Zupancic, a member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg, thanked his parents for their sacrifice in giving him a Catholic education.

He received a career achievement award.

“Really the Catholic school experience was an extension of the nurturing that I received at home, the discipline that I received at home, and just the love that I received at home,” Zupancic said.

Vincent Caponi, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, received the community service award.

“I believe that my Catholic education has assisted me to live the core values,” Caponi said, “to know what those values are and then carry them out in my business life and my personal life.” †

(To listen to George Weigel’s presentation at the Nov. 8 dinner, log on to †


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