Catholic schools: A legacy worth preserving

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley

For more than 200 years, Catholic parents, clergy and religious have championed Catholic schools across the United States. Faced with a frontier culture that was often hostile to their values, the Catholic community built schools that allowed their children to grow in knowledge and faith – as good Catholics committed to improving their neighborhoods and society. And with sweat, resolve and prayer, these immigrants built the largest system of non-public schools the world has ever seen. We have inherited a remarkable legacy!

Catholic schools have educated many generations of young Catholics, forming them in faith, virtue, knowledge and a readiness to serve. They have breathed life into parishes and communities and, most importantly, drawn children into deeper communion with Christ and the Church. It is precisely because of these benefits that the Catholic community today must continue to invest in the future of our children and their schools.

Nationwide, there are waiting lists at nearly 25 percent of our Catholic schools, but 500,000 fewer children are benefiting daily from a Catholic education, and our communities have lost more than 1,000 schools over the last decade.

 

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the power of Catholic schools is to imagine the Church in the United States without them. What would it look like? Would it be as robust and vital? How would it produce future leaders? How would it provide avenues of educational opportunity to the poor? Catholic schools are a tremendous resource not only to Catholics, but to the communities in which we live, and to our nation. The rise of evangelical Christian schools shows that other Christian communities have learned what many Catholics have forgotten or are willing to ignore – that there is no substitute for spending 35 hours each week in an educational environment permeated by faith and Gospel values.

To those who wonder how we can afford to make the kind of investment necessary to sustain, strengthen and expand Catholic schools, we respond by turning the question on its head. How can we afford not to make this investment?

Our future depends on this willingness to invest in our schools more than we may realize. In this regard, the archdiocese has begun to develop a diocesan Catholic Schools Strategic Plan. This planning process will look at the challenges we face today, including enrollment and marketing, financial resources, academic standards, Catholic identity, governance and leadership, and outreach to our Hispanic population. We must remain focused on mission. So, we will be seeking ways to make our Catholic schools even stronger communities of faith, knowledge and service as we move forward.

As Catholics, we all have a stake in strengthening this foundation. We all have an interest in increasing access to Catholic education for the children who are our most precious resource. Our schools share the Church’s mission to form missionary disciples of Jesus Christ and transform the world by sharing the joy of the Gospel.

The future of vibrant Catholic schools depends on our ability to sustain this energy, the fruit of our own encounter with Christ, who is the first and greatest Evangelizer. Christ Himself promised that He will remain with us, that He will inspire us through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit to make all things new, and that He will never leave us orphans. That’s a promise we can depend on!

As we begin our annual observance of Catholic Schools Week, I invite you to celebrate this legacy with me. Pray for an even greater flourishing of our Catholic schools, so that we can hand on this precious legacy to future generations of Sooner Catholics.