January 28, 2011

2011 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

A drive for excellence and values guides the spirit of Catholic schools

By Harry Plummer

This year’s inspirational Catholic Schools Week theme—“A+ for America”—instantly reminded me of two things I would like to share with you.

The first is a little rhyme that I often hear my children recite in my own household: “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good gets better and your better gets best.”

They learned it at this year’s first all-school Mass at Our Lady of the Greenwood School in Greenwood.

Deacon David Henn took this wonderful axiom that St. Jerome penned about 1,700 years ago and made it come alive for the students, to such great effect that I’m told that the school’s cheerleaders even developed it into a cheer.

To me, it epitomizes the relentless drive for excellence that Catholic schools have collectively come to represent in our local community, our state, our country and our world.

The second is a story I related in my “Celebrating Catholic School Values” address last fall. I heard it when I was a teacher at an inner-city Catholic high school in Detroit.

It had to do with how a small family a generation or so ago raised money to support the building of a new Catholic school in their neighborhood. The mother of this family placed a large glass jar on a counter in the kitchen, and whenever she knew someone in the family had some “spare change”—into the jar it went.

But this wasn’t the only source of revenue for the Catholic School Jar. Much to the displeasure of her two sons, the mother also made them put a dime in the jar—and sometimes even a quarter—every time they fought with one another. And they fought often.

A few years later, the parish had raised the money for a new school. At the dedication ceremony, one of the boys looked up at the new building and said to his brother, “So this is what we’ve been fighting for all these years!”

I think everyone who supports Catholic schools can relate to both of these stories because they touch on the spirit of Catholic school education. Our schools are never satisfied with being merely “good,” and they’re definitely worth the fight to keep them operating.

But this is not only due to their stellar academic achievements. You see, many other types of schools pursue the same academic success we have been achieving. What makes our schools distinctive is the way they relate all learning to the Gospel so that students are formed in a manner consistent with their vocation to become saints.

This religious dimension has been, is now and ever shall be at the very heart of the Catholic school playbook. We must never forget this because, as Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller, the former Secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, reminds us, “If we fail to keep in mind this high supernatural vision, all our talk about Catholic schools will be no more than ‘a gong booming or a cymbal clashing’ ” (1 Cor 13:1).

I hope this little reflection on Catholic schools serves to heighten our appreciation for this tremendous educational apostolate. They are certainly worth our support—and our gratitude. Someone once said that feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.

So let’s take this year’s Catholic Schools Week celebration as an opportunity to really express our gratitude, and renew our commitment to give generously of our time, talent and treasure so Catholic schools can continue to lead this country in earning an A+ for America!

(Harry Plummer is the executive director of the archdiocese’s Secretariat for Catholic Education and Faith Formation.) †

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