October 30, 2015

Value of Catholic schools to country and Church is indispensable, speaker says

An archdiocesan celebration of Catholic education on Oct. 26 honored four individuals whose Catholic values mark their lives. Sitting, from left, are honorees Tom Dale, Dr. Marianne Price and Dr. Frank Price. Standing, from left, are honoree Dave Gehrich, Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin and keynote speaker, Holy Cross Father Timothy Scully. (Photo by Rob Banayote)

An archdiocesan celebration of Catholic education on Oct. 26 honored four individuals whose Catholic values mark their lives. Sitting, from left, are honorees Tom Dale, Dr. Marianne Price and Dr. Frank Price. Standing, from left, are honoree Dave Gehrich, Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin and keynote speaker, Holy Cross Father Timothy Scully. (Photo by Rob Banayote)

By John Shaughnessy

The compelling question came in the midst of a celebration—a celebration in which the archdiocese continued to move closer to its goal of raising $5 million this year to help children receive a Catholic education.

The question was posed by Holy Cross Father Timothy Scully, the featured speaker during the 20th annual Celebrating Catholic School Values Awards event at Union Station in Indianapolis on Oct. 26.

(Related story: Spirit of caring, love of faith are evident in award winners)

“Sometimes, it’s interesting when you’re thinking about the value of something to think about what our life would be like without it,” said Father Scully, the co-founder of the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), which trains educators to serve in Catholic schools in economically challenged communities across the United States.

“What would be different in America today, in our Church, in our communities, if Catholic schools never existed?”

Father Scully started his answer by focusing on the impact of a Catholic education on the most vulnerable children in American society.

“It’s been shown when Catholic schools close in an urban neighborhood, crime increases, delinquency rises, urban decay sets in,” Father Scully told the 600 people at the event. “Catholic schools represent islands of hope in the midst of lives often bereft of hope, generating untold social capital.

“Our graduates are more likely to be engaged in community service as adults. They’re far less likely to be incarcerated, and they experience far higher lifetime earnings. Moreover, in the aggregate, Catholic schools are in fact more racially and socially plural than their public school counterparts. In many of our poorest urban communities, more than 90 percent of our students are minorities and many of them are not Catholic.

“The truth of the matter is that Catholic schools are absolutely essential, sacred places serving civic purposes. Their existence and vitality are essential to the life and health of our nation.”

From an economic standpoint, Catholic schools also “save the public purse in our country more than $21 billion a year,” Father Scully noted.

Then there is the impact that Catholic schools have on the Church in the United States.

“We know from our research that Catholic school graduates are more likely to pray regularly, attend church regularly, retain their Catholic faith as adults, and be more generous of their time to the Church and civil society.”

Combine the impact that Catholic schools have on the country and the Church, and the value of Catholic schools is overwhelming, Father Scully said.

“Nothing in American Catholicism—nothing—offers a more vivid testament of this mindset than our Catholic schools, which have served and continue to serve as indispensable instruments of human formation and really social transformation.”

It’s a legacy—“a living endowment” from preceding generations of religious communities, educators and family members—that must be honored and continued, Father Scully said.

“They built the schools where they grew in learning and character. The two went hand in hand—learning and character. The values transmitted in the school were the foundations of citizenship, mobility and a life of faith.”

That same foundation—“the Catholic school advantage”—is essential to making a difference in the lives of students today.

“You are providing thousands of children what we call ‘the Catholic school advantage,’ ” Father Scully noted. “It’s what research has demonstrated, time and time again, that the more disadvantaged the student, the greater the increase in achievement and attainment for the student enrolled in a Catholic school.

“The combination of a college- and heaven-focused community within a school culture of high expectations that inspires hard work and internal motivation is a game-changer for students.”

Father Scully’s message dovetailed with the archdiocese’s continued commitment to provide a Catholic education for children from all backgrounds.

The 20th annual Celebrating Catholic School Values event moved the archdiocese closer to its goal of raising $5 million this year to help children receive a Catholic education, said Gina Fleming, the archdiocese’s superintendent of Catholic schools. Nearly $3.5 million has been raised or pledged so far this year.

“With our high schools anticipating collections between tonight and Dec. 31 at over another $1.5 million, we are extremely humbled and grateful to each of you for helping us meet and likely exceed our goal of $5 million,” Fleming told the audience.

The projected goal of $5 million would add to the $15 million that has already been raised in the first 19 years of the event—potentially adding up to $20 million in 20 years.

“Ultimately, we wish to provide a quality Catholic education to every individual who desires it, regardless of ability to pay,” Fleming said, noting that all Catholic schools in the archdiocese provide some type of tuition assistance to families in need. “This year, nearly 35 percent of the [nearly 24,000] students we serve are receiving support through state vouchers—that’s 7,711 students.”

The nearly $3.5 million already raised this year has come mostly through contributions to the Indiana Tax Credit Scholarship program. A Tax Credit Scholarship of at least $500 per child, given for one year, allows an income-eligible student to receive an Indiana school voucher the following year and for up to 12 years of education in a Catholic school—a potential of $60,000 in state voucher assistance.

During the event, Fleming also shared other impressive numbers, including that 94 percent of the archdiocese’s Catholic high school graduates pursue a college degree—and that high school students last year contributed more than 100,000 hours of service to their communities.

She also saluted three religious orders that “have made significant contributions to our archdiocesan schools and the families we serve”—the Sisters of Providence, the Sisters of St. Benedict, and the Sisters of St. Francis.

“The sisters have made a tremendous impact on the lives of millions,” Fleming noted, while also citing the influence of priests, deacons, religious brothers, parents and other supporters of Catholic schools.

The opportunity for a Catholic education is a lasting gift that should be available to all, said event chairman Robert McKinney.

“I don’t simply mean what a student learns in the classroom, but also the values, the experience and the relationships,” McKinney said. “The Catholic school experience provides assets which give the student the ability to build a great life.”

At the end of the celebration, Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin praised McKinney and the event’s development chairman Dan Mattingly for their efforts.

The archbishop also saluted the four people who were honored during the event for the way they represent the values of Catholic education. Tom Dale and Dave Gehrich received Career Achievement Awards, while Drs. Frank and Marianne Price were honored with the Community Service Award.

Archbishop Tobin also thanked Father Scully for his inspiration and for the growing relationship between the archdiocese and Notre Dame’s ACE initiative. Eight administrators in archdiocesan schools have participated in the ACE Remick Leadership program. And this year marks the first time that four ACE teachers are serving in Catholic schools in the archdiocese.

The partnership is scheduled to grow even tighter beginning in the fall of 2016, the archbishop told the audience. The plan is for the Mother Theodore Catholic Academies—five center-city schools in Indianapolis—to become Notre Dame ACE Academies.

The archbishop tied together his commitment to Catholic education and his bond to Notre Dame in a story that he shared at the end of the celebration.

He recalled his trip to Notre Dame on March 4 to attend the funeral of the university’s president emeritus, Holy Cross Father Theodore Hesburgh.

“I heard many stories about Father Ted, but the one that really touched me was when he made that decision—a courageous decision—to admit women to the University of Notre Dame,” the archbishop shared. “He explained it this way: ‘How am I one day going to face the mother of God and tell her that, at the university that was named after her, her daughters couldn’t come’?

“Driving back, I thought, ‘How could I ever face Jesus Christ as the grateful product of Catholic education, of knowing what Catholic education can do, especially for underserved populations—how could I ever face Jesus and say, ‘I didn’t do everything that I could to ensure they’d have the same chance that I had to grow up in a community of faith’?” †

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