March 2, 2018

Catholic education is a ‘most valuable gift of the Church’ to the world, speaker says

St. Joseph Sister Carol Cimino delivers the keynote speech during the Celebrating Catholic School Values event on Feb. 22 at Union Station in Indianapolis. (Photo by Rob Banayote)

St. Joseph Sister Carol Cimino delivers the keynote speech during the Celebrating Catholic School Values event on Feb. 22 at Union Station in Indianapolis. (Photo by Rob Banayote)

By John Shaughnessy

During a celebration when it was announced that more than $6 million has been raised in the past year to help children attend Catholic schools in the archdiocese, keynote speaker Sister Carol Cimino reflected on the rich heritage of Catholic education, calling it “a unique, most valuable gift of the Church” to the world and the United States.

“Nothing matches up to the Catholic school—where a child comes 5 ½ to six hours a day and learns to live the Gospel, not just learn about it,” said Sister Carol, drawing extended applause from the 425 people who attended the archdiocese’s 22nd annual Celebrating Catholic School Values event in Union Station in Indianapolis on Feb. 22.

(Related video: Watch Sister Carol's keynote)

“Catholic schools are schools that offer a chance, not merely a choice to so many children who otherwise would be kept on the margins,” added Sister Carol, a Sister of St. Joseph of Rochester, N.Y., who has served 53 years in Catholic education, including her current role as the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y.

She shared how Catholic schools have long served people on the margins of society, including teaching the countless number of children of “poor immigrants” who came to the United States for a new life.

“The nuns taught people that other schools wouldn’t teach,” said Sister Carol. “The nuns taught the freed slaves and the children of the freed slaves how to read and write. The nuns taught the Native Americans. The nuns taught the newly-minted Americans, the new immigrants that were poor.”

It’s a legacy and a commitment that Catholic schools must continue, she declared, citing the example of St. Theodora Guérin, the foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, who helped shape the future of Catholic education in Indiana.

“Mother Theodore Guérin didn’t come here wealthy. Mother Theodore Guérin did not come here owning lots of land. Mother Theodore Guérin came here with nothing but her faith. And look at the legacy she left the people of Indiana.

“Our schools should reflect the missionary character of the Church. We need to underscore the teaching of the poor to be the focus of our schools and the signature ministry of our Church.”

In calling for “a re-founding” of that commitment to Catholic education, she saluted the parents and pastors who support Catholic schools. The religious sister—who made $412 for the entire year when she began her career in Catholic education as a teacher in 1965—also showered praise on the lay men and women who now staff Catholic schools.

“They will tell you that it’s not about the money. It’s about passing on the Gospel, the Good News.”

Everyone in the Church must make that same commitment, she noted.

“As we continue to work toward true choice in education through local, state and federal levels, we need to be very serious about convincing the Church—clergy and laity—of the necessity of Catholic schools. Nothing else works. They are necessary to the Church and to the country.”

In closing, she said that Catholics should take their example from the magi who traveled to lay their gifts before the Christ Child.

“What about the magi? We don’t know who they were or how many. The Gospels don’t say there were three. We do know there were women in the group, because they stopped and asked for directions,” she said, drawing a burst of laughter from the audience.

Turning serious, she continued, “The magi read the signs of the times. They acted on the signs on the times. They asked directions. They were prepared. They brought their gifts. They showed up. They completed their journey. And finally, they returned a different way, and they were changed forever by the experience that they had. And that is what we must guarantee our students and our teachers.”

The powerful impact of a Catholic education on students in the archdiocese was shared earlier in the celebration by Gina Fleming, archdiocesan superintendent of Catholic schools.

She noted that the results of Indiana evaluation testing showed that the passing rates of students in the archdiocese were “about 10 to 15 percent higher than the state level at every grade level.”

Fleming also shared with the audience that the graduation rates for all Catholic high schools in the archdiocese was nearly 100 percent, and those graduates in the Class of 2017 had earned more than $138 million in merit-based college scholarships.

Catholic schools in the archdiocese also embrace children from all backgrounds, she noted.

“With a committed focus on building inclusive cultures, 50 percent of our schools support students for whom English is a new language, and all 100 percent of our Catholic schools support students with identified special needs,” Fleming said.

She also thanked the audience for helping to make Catholic education a reality for students who need financial help to attend Catholic schools.

“Thanks to the generous support of donors like you and Indiana’s legislation that supports parental choice, Catholic education is more affordable and accessible than ever before,” she said, noting that 2,222 students in archdiocesan Catholic schools received Indiana Tax Credit Scholarships this school year, and more than 8,000 students received state vouchers.

Such support allows educators to share the true mission of Catholic schools with more children and families, she said.

“We are called to prepare students not only for college or careers, but for heaven,” she said. “We count on you to collaborate in our most important endeavor—seeking the face of Christ and sharing his light and love with all those whom we encounter.”

During the event, a couple, an individual and a parish men’s group were honored by the archdiocese for the way they represent the values of a Catholic education. Ody Oruche and Dan and Jan Megel received Career Achievement Awards, while the men’s group of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis was honored with the Community Service Award. (Related story: Love of faith, spirit of caring are evident in 2018 CCSV award winners)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson presented the awards. Closing the night’s program, the archbishop noted that the event has raised more than $34 million for Catholic education in its 22-year history.

“On behalf of all the children who will be able to receive a Catholic education through your generosity, thank you very much,” Archbishop Thompson told the audience.

He then offered a parting prayer, thanking God and sharing these thoughts:

“We celebrate tonight how Catholic schools continue to form hearts, educate minds and shape character and discipleship. As we go forth tonight from this celebration, may we be inspired to truly live these values of our schools, not only when it’s easy, not only when it’s popular, but most especially when it’s difficult and in times when it feels like we’re standing alone.” †

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