September 17, 2021


Catholic schools serve and protect our children

One of the most difficult and long-lasting results of the COVID-19 pandemic may well be its effect on the education of our children. Thank God for our Catholic schools whose teachers and staff continue to go far above and beyond the call of duty to provide our children with outstanding educational experiences in safe environments designed to serve and protect children, their families and the entire school community.

Catholic schools are special for many different reasons, but I think the primary reason is something we too often take for granted, namely our schools’ Catholic identity.

What constitutes a school’s Catholic identity? It’s not the externals—the crucifixes on the classroom walls, the pictures and statues of the saints, or the rice bowls used to collect money for the missions. These are important symbols that remind us of deeper truths, but they are not the essential things that make a school Catholic.

There are several different ways to describe Catholic identity, but three elements are fundamental. These are: evangelization, catechesis and social justice. Here is a brief description of each of these essential elements of Catholic identity:

A Catholic school must witness to the person of Jesus Christ and to his message (evangelization). Catholic schools exist to proclaim the Gospel. Everything in the school—its curriculum, its liturgies and retreats, its sports activities and its service programs—should provide students (also staff and families) with opportunities to encounter the person of Jesus Christ, to become his disciples and to proclaim to the whole world our salvation in him. The most important element in a school’s Catholic identity is its commitment to make Christ present to everyone who attends the school or who comes into contact with it.

A Catholic school must teach the Catholic faith (catechesis). The mystery of God, as revealed to us by the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the primary content of a Catholic education. Everything else that is taught is an elaboration on the wonders of God’s creation and the history of our salvation. All of the academic disciplines reveal in partial and preliminary ways the working of the Holy Spirit in our world from the beginning of time. The more we learn about math and science, diverse languages and cultures, and the ups and downs of world history, the more we discover that the teachings of our Church, as contained in Scripture and in our Catholic tradition, represents the truth, the way things really are. Schools that teach the faith are vibrant learning environments that promote curiosity and an openness to new ways of living and learning.

Finally, in order to be truly Catholic, a school must teach its students and all members of the school community to reach out to others and accept responsibility for the well-being of all God’s creation (social justice). Catholic schools exist for both the good of their students and of the communities they serve. A school that is truly Catholic serves its neighborhood and community because of its recognition that we cannot love God as we should unless we also love our neighbor. Social justice is a constitutive element of the Gospel. That means it must also be a constitutive element of the curriculum and the daily life of every Catholic school.

A school is Catholic when it recognizes that it is called to accomplish these three fundamental objectives: to introduce students to the person of Jesus Christ, to help them understand the world through the wisdom of our Catholic teaching, and to challenge them to serve the needs of others as Jesus did. A school that accomplishes these objectives serves not only its students but also every member of the school community and all the people—near and far—who are touched by its mission.

Catholic schools have served the Catholic community in central and southern Indiana for many years now—long before COVID-19 threatened the physical, mental and spiritual health of our children. Thanks to the tradition of Catholic education in our archdiocese, our schools remain vibrant communities of faith, learning and service. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to our school leaders, our teachers and staff for their unwavering dedication to the unique ministry that they carry out so faithfully.

May Jesus Christ, who is the primary teacher in every Catholic home and in every Catholic school, continue to bless our parents, families and school communities. That in all things God may be glorified!

—Daniel Conway

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