January 24, 2014

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Catholic schools set standard of success, creating communities of faith, knowledge and service

By Harry Plummer

Harry PlummerThe three dimensions of Catholic school education identified in this year’s Catholic Schools Week theme—“Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service”—capture the essence of Catholic school education.

Like master weavers, our Catholic school leaders skillfully blend these fabrics into a seamless garment which our schools proudly wear as the most effective system of schools in the nation.

And while the importance of faith and knowledge are often showcased when we applaud our Catholic schools, this does not diminish the vital role service plays in their remarkable success story.

The fundamental reason our schools provide opportunities for students to participate in works of mercy arises from their Christian nature, which calls them to not only teach about the faith but also to demonstrate the Gospel in action.

The Catholic faith teaches that the Eucharist commits us to the poor, and our schools have the privilege of providing students with frequent and meaningful opportunities to express this commitment and its many social implications. How frequent?

According to the most recent figures we have available, the students in our archdiocesan schools completed 164,251 hours of service in 2012!

Of course, it’s not about the numbers. It’s about giving students the opportunity to serve the poor, which in turn has the potential to light a fire that will burn in their hearts for the rest of their lives. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s beautiful reflection, “Maybe, if I didn’t pick up that one person, I wouldn’t have picked up 42,000,” is relevant here.

Another reason to celebrate our schools being communities of service is that they provide students with the opportunity to develop the habit of sharing their faith in the public square.

Offering students positive experiences of demonstrating the Gospel in action within the supportive context of Catholic school programming helps them continue to do so when they graduate.

Their faithful example in today’s culture is of critical importance in protecting our religious freedom, especially in confronting societal attitudes that seek to delegitimize the Church’s participation in giving public witness concerning the issues which are determining the future of American society.

These reasons amply validate the time our schools put into service, but I find it interesting to note that secular research is also demonstrating its benefits.

An increasing number of studies are showing a significant correlation between service learning and higher levels of academic engagement, higher academic achievement and many other benefits including civic engagement and critical thinking. (See www.nationalservice.gov.)

Service learning research is also validating what Catholic schools have always known: that serving others helps form in students a deeper sense of personal identity and purpose—values so critically important to foster in youths, especially in adolescents.

It’s all part of the many profound benefits that Catholic schools provide to the ministry of charity exercised by the Church and to our nation through their fidelity in being “Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.”

Dwelling upon those benefits, I can only shake my head in wonder, thank God and loudly affirm Covington Bishop Roger Foys’ wonderful statement that while there may be alternatives to Catholic education, there are no substitutes.

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

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