A Vision for Catholic Schools as Evangelizing Communities

January 8, 2012

Later this month we will observe Catholic Schools Week 2012 highlighting the excellence of our schools and their irreplaceable contribution to the life and mission of the Church. The colorful insert in this issue of the Sooner Catholic focuses on this year’s theme, “Catholic Schools: Faith. Academics. Service.”

Why Catholic Schools? As Jesus was returning to the Father, he commissioned his Apostles saying, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:19-20). Forming children and youth in the Catholic faith is a vital task for the Church if we are going to keep faith with this missionary mandate.

Handing on the Catholic faith to young people is an essential part of the Church’s mission to evangelize. Our Catholic schools, by virtue of the instruction, formation and witness that they provide, are a privileged place of evangelization. The reason we invest and sacrifice so much in support of our Catholic schools is for the sake of this missionary mandate. It is for the sake of evangelization.

If our Catholic schools are going to fulfill their proper task, however, they must be clearly and enthusiastically Catholic. They must have a vibrant and strong Catholic identity. Every-thing about our schools’ academic and formation programs, including our approach to athletics and the arts, ought to be grounded in the authentic teaching and practice of the Catholic Church. Every student in our Catholic schools, regardless of his or her faith tradition, should be growing in their understanding and appreciation of what the Catholic Church teaches and believes. While we would never seek to impose our faith on anyone, we would be failing in our own duty if we neglected to propose the beauty, truth and goodness of the Gospel and our Catholic faith in all its fullness. We ought to be eager to invite everyone to learn, to pray and to serve with us.

In addition to welcoming children from other faith traditions, our Catholic schools ought to be striving always to be ever more inclusive of students from every social, economic and ethnic background. We can be rightly proud of the way we incorporate the rich traditions of the various cultures in our communities.

In order for our Catholic schools to flourish, each and every school in the Archdiocese ought to be committed to increasing its enrollment. We cannot be satisfied with the status quo. Excellence in every aspect of our program — academic, faith formation, worship and service — all contribute to a dynamic and growing school community. But each school also ought to have a student recruitment plan. Every member of the school community should recognize their role in growing the school’s enrollment, especially among our Catholic families.

Finally, if our Catholic schools are going to fulfill their proper mission, they must become financially sound and at the same time find ways of providing assistance to those who otherwise cannot afford to attend a Catholic school. This has always been our greatest challenge. It is a challenge that threatens the continued existence of some of our schools today. For this reason, it will remain one of our top goals.

Our Catholic schools throughout the United States and across Oklahoma were built by the generous stewardship of religious women and men, pastors and, of course, the Catholic families who made tremendous sacrifices to provide Catholic schools for their children and their neighbors’ children. The future of our Catholic schools will depend on our ability to rekindle that same spirit of stewardship and sacrifice. It is a commitment that has to be shared. The parents of Catholic schoolchildren cannot be left with the sole responsibility of shouldering the full cost of Catholic education. For many that cost is simply too high. Catholic schools are a part of the mission of the whole Church. They are an expression of the parish’s mission as an evangelizing community.