But this Mass was different. Very different. First, was the venue. This week’s Mass was celebrated in the Resch Center. Second, was the attendance. We celebrated the beauty of our Catholic faith with nearly 10,000 students from virtually every school in our Diocese. They came from schools in Antigo and Marinette and Appleton and Manitowoc and Oshkosh, and every place in between, and they were joined by thousands of teachers, each wearing a red polo shirt that said, “I Make a Difference.”
The occasion was sponsored and funded by the Diocesan Association of School Administrators (DASA), whose membership includes the principals from each of our elementary, middle and high schools. To help defray the cost, schools were asked to donate $1 per student, a fraction of the cost for typical field trips to pick pumpkins or attend a play.
As I celebrated the Eucharist, the core of our Catholic faith, with these young people, I focused on the real meaning of Catholic school education: that it provides a faith-based, nurturing environment in which our students are challenged academically and prepared to become good citizens and leaders who are grounded in our Catholic faith, morality and ethics.
Our Catholic schools provide a Christ-centered atmosphere for learning. They are welcoming. And they create a supportive community of believers and friends that encourages self-discipline and motivation while supporting student learning and achievement.
In these faith-based institutions, our students receive a daily education in values which complements the efforts of the students’ primary teachers — their parents! Daily instruction is grounded in the teachings of the Catholic Church, and that Catholic identity is infused throughout the curriculum in all subject areas. Recognizing the role of charity in our lives, our Catholic school students continually receive age-appropriate opportunities to practice their faith through service to others. And, most important of all, they have regular opportunities for Mass, adoration and the sacraments.
Five years ago, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement, “Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium.” In it, we said that young people are a valued treasure and the future leaders of our church. We confirmed the responsibility of the entire Catholic community — bishops, priests, deacons, religious and the lay faithful — to continue to strive towards the goal of making our Catholic elementary and secondary schools available, accessible and affordable to all Catholic parents and their children, including those who are poor and middle class. We pledged that all Catholics must join together in efforts to ensure that Catholic schools have administrators and teachers who are prepared to provide an exceptional educational experience for young people — one that is both truly Catholic and of the highest academic quality.
As I looked out over all those students and teachers who packed the Resch Center, I knew that in the Diocese of Green Bay we were succeeding in that pledge. And I knew that as we continue the progress we are making through the Catholic Schools Initiative, our schools will become stronger and valued partners with our parishes and the greater Catholic community.
There was another ray of hope emanating from that assembly of Catholic school students from the 16 counties. Catholic schools are, after all, a time-tested source of vocations for our church.
I couldn’t help but wonder how many of those young people might, at this Mass, experience a special moment in their lives when they open themselves up to the possibility of answering God’s call to a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Time will tell.
I ask each of you to pray for those students and teachers who attended the Mass this week. And continue to support the pastors, principals and diocesan education staff in this special mission to our young people. Remember that the essence of Catholic schools is investing in our future — both the future of our community and the future of our church.