Helping youth see Gospel truths
Catholic schools fulfill education mission, and then another as well
By Bishop Robert Banks
With all the bad news about priests and bishops flooding the media, a person can't be blamed for wondering if there is any good news about the Church. Fortunately, there are plenty of good things going on in the Church.
We see that every Sunday as priests and people gather to be nourished by the Gospel and the Eucharist. That nourishment of body, mind and soul is a guarantee that we shall find the strength and wisdom to change what needs to be changed and reaffirm what needs to be reaffirmed.
Moving on to other things, I have just returned from celebrating Mass at Nativity Parish in Green Bay with about 50 members of the Area Special Religious Education program run by Susan Shefka-Peeters. Some parents and friends were also present, so we had a good-sized congregation.
All the various ministries, from choir to altar servers, were carried out by the youngsters and adults who belong to the special education program. I was much impressed by the way in which they handled their responsibilities. I was also very much impressed by Susan, by those who help her and by the parents. There was love in abundance, but also expertise and deep respect.
Earlier in the week, our diocesan Total Catholic Education department sponsored a two-day conference on Catholic schools for pastors, parents, and principals. The speaker was John Findlater, a nationally known advocate for Catholic schools. Mr. Finlader began criss-crossing the country a few years ago, when he became convinced that Catholic schools had to make certain that they were offering an education with a difference -- a Catholic difference.
The program opened with a luncheon for pastors and principals of our schools. It was an opportunity for me, speaking for the Diocese, to acknowledge and thank them for the important contribution they make to the mission of the Church and our Diocese.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for our schools to exist without the solid support of our pastors. That is most obviously the case when the school is a parish school. Parishioners are more willing to take on the heavy cost of a parish school when they see and hear the pastor support the school.
But even in those areas where parishes have surrendered their individual schools in favor of a joint network of schools, the support of the pastors is essential, perhaps more essential. They have to help parishioners see that the substantial subsidies required for the support of the network are a very worthwhile investment in the Church's mission.
It goes without saying that the principal is the key to the success of a school. It is my experience that, just by walking into a school, you can almost sense whether it has a good principal.
I was going to say that we are fortunate to have good principals, but it is more accurate to say that we are blessed to have good principals. They are a blessing in two ways. First, they bring organization and enthusiasm to the educational and Catholic mission of a school. Second, out of sense of deep commitment, they stay with us even though many -- if not most of them -- could easily find positions in the public school system that would almost double their salaries.
Thanking our pastors and principals was only part of the reason for last week's program. It was also part of a new diocesan effort to stress the importance of our schools and of a Catholic school education. I fear we are beginning to take the existence of our Catholic schools for granted and many of us are losing appreciation for the importance of a Catholic school education for our children.
It took me a while to appreciate the importance of our schools. When I finished 23 years of work on a seminary faculty, I was not interested in taking on the job of pastoring a parish where I would have to spend my energy on raising money for the parish school.
Yet it took only two years as an associate pastor in a parish with a school to realize how much life a school brings to a parish. When it came time to be a pastor, I chose a large city parish with a large school. I did not regret it.
As for the importance of a Catholic school education, I remember the ease with which many priests, sisters and parents were convinced in the late 1960s that we were wasting money and energy on our Catholic schools. We could give our children just as good an education using the public schools and our parish religious education programs.
But back then, our country's culture was different. The Judeo-Christian attitude toward life permeated all our schools, both religious and public. That is no longer the case. Our country's culture is increasingly secular, individualistic and relativistic. Each person decides for her/himself what is right and what is wrong.
A perfect example is the college sophomore who wrote, "For me, September 11th was a horrible offense against humanity." (Italics added.) Objective moral norms are no longer the fashion. This new culture affects all our children, including those who come to our Catholic schools. When our schools are true to their mission, they can help our young people see the truth of the Gospel message.
This is not to put down our public schools. They deserve our full support. And one of he ways in which we can support them is by supporting vouchers. I found it interesting that The Economist, a respected secular journal, has given strong editorial support to vouchers here in the United States. A recent issue carried on its cover the message, "Hands up for vouchers!" Accompanying the message was a full-page picture of the Statue of Liberty, arm upraised.
The inside article concluded by saying that a favorable decision on vouchers by the U.S. Supreme Court "could also revive a public-school system that has languished, in part, because it has been shielded from competition."
Our country has to help all our parents get a good education for all our children.