By Archbishop Paul S. Coakley
Archbishop of Oklahoma City
January 13, 2013
As those might notice who occasionally scan my published calendar, I spend a lot of time visiting our Catholic schools. Every year I travel to each of our 22 Catholic elementary and secondary schools around the Archdiocese. Among these we have two traditional high schools, one virtual high school, 18 elementary schools and one school for children on the autistic spectrum. I am proud of each of these institutions. Each one represents a shared commitment among parents, pastors, administrators, faculty and staff, the parishes and the Archdiocese.
From the earliest days of the Church’s history in the United States and in Oklahoma, Catholic schools have had an irreplaceable role in the life and mission of the Church. Much of the credit for this rich heritage is owed to the religious women and men who pioneered some of our earliest Catholic schools. We celebrate this ongoing commitment and legacy annually during Catholic Schools Week, which we observe this year beginning Jan. 27.
The theme for Catholic Schools Week 2013 is “Catholic Schools Raise the Standards.” Our schools are committed to pursuing and promoting excellence in every sphere. We can achieve this, however, only if we are clear about why we exist at all. As we seek to raise standards across the board, we raise highest the standard of our faith.
During this Year of Faith it is good to emphasize the privileged opportunity that Catholic schools have in regard to strengthening and handing on our Catholic faith. As an expression of the Church’s mission, our schools’ primary purpose is to be evangelizing communities of disciples. Catholic schools are privileged places of evangelization. Here faith is nurtured through a close collaboration with parents. Faith is celebrated through worship and prayer. Faith is lived out in loving service to others. Faith is strengthened as it is integrated across the entire curriculum and in every facet of the educational environment. Here we pursue excellence in academic instruction as well as faith formation. We do this by being authen- tically Catholic in our teaching and practice, but also by being inclusive of students from every social, economic and ethnic background. We welcome students of other faith traditions, but owe them an opportunity to appreciate the fullness of our Catholic faith and heritage.
In order for our Catholic schools to continue to flourish, we have to strategize ways to grow our enrollment and to make Catholic schools accessible to more and more children. Our schools need a solid financial footing if they are to remain viable. Our schools need ways to provide tuition assistance to those who other-wise could not afford the benefits of a Catholic school education. These remain some of our greatest challenges, and the greatest threat to the continued flourishing of our Catholic schools.
Our Catholic schools have flourished because of the generous stewardship of families, religious women and men, priests and parishioners who together have made tremendous sacrifices to make Catholic schools available for their children, grandchildren and their neighbor’s children. It has always been a shared commitment and a shared sacrifice.
The future depends on our ability to sustain this spirit of stewardship. We are benefitting from the sacrifices of those who have gone before us. And we have to keep in mind those who will come after us. Parents of today’s Catholic schoolchildren cannot be left to shoulder the full cost of Catholic education alone. For most it is simply too expensive. Whether or not we have children in Catholic schools, we all benefit from maintaining strong Catholic schools.
I hope you enjoy the insert in this issue which profiles our Catholic schools and how we are striving to keep them strong.