Around the country, the Catholic Church is celebrating Catholic Schools Week Jan. 27-Feb. 2. During the week, the USCCB blog will feature entries from people who reflect on how their lives were and are impacted by Catholic education. Today, Sister Dale McDonald, PBVM, PhD explains the “why” of Catholic schools.
Three essential reasons underscore the why of Catholic schools.
The first is family. Catholic schools collaborate with parents, who are the primary educators of their children. The schools focus on faith and values as families struggle to raise their children in the diverse and often immoral context of modern society. Within the school, students can nurture spiritual and moral values not only in religion classes but also throughout the entire curriculum and within extracurricular activities.
Catholic schools offer a broad-based curriculum with outstanding academics, community service, and the opportunity to foster personal human growth and development in an atmosphere where faith and culture are integrated into the school climate and culture. The schools foster community, an understanding of the importance of service to others, and a commitment to living one’s faith each day.
Catholic schools work with parents to develop students’ self- awareness of their value and the contributions their personal gifts make to creating a more just society. The schools help parents realize their aspirations for their children: to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for success in higher education, fulfilling careers and a meaningful life.
The second is Church. Catholic schools are integral to the Church’s mission of evangelization, spreading the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Pope Benedict XVI during his meeting with Catholic educators at The Catholic University of America during his 2008 visit to the United States stated clearly: “First and foremost, every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth.”
The Catholic school is essential for the future of the church. A 2005 study by CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) found that Catholic education makes a difference. The survey demonstrated that Catholic school graduates are notably different from Catholic children not in parochial schools in four important areas: 1) fidelity to Sunday Mass and a keener sense of prayer; 2) maintaining pro-life attitudes, especially on the pivotal topic of abortion; 3) the personal consideration of a religious vocation and 4) continued support for the local church and community, both financially and through service projects, for the balance of their adult lives.
Today’s youth must prepare to be a source of energy and leadership in the church. Where better can that happen than in a Catholic school where on a daily basis students live their faith and grow in their responsibilities as Christians?
The third is society. Catholic schools challenge students to improve the world by sharing Gospel values and living Christ’s message so as to foster the common good of the nation.
Catholic schools offer a community environment in which students experience and live the values upon which their education is based. They are encouraged to contribute to society and to assume leadership roles in shaping public attitudes and public policies and contribute their time and talent to promoting social justice.
Catholic schools make a significant contribution to society by educating millions of students who will advance the nation’s fundamental goal of developing a “good society” that values the worth and dignity of the human person.
Sister Dale McDonald, PBVM, PhD is director of public policy and educational research at the National Catholic Educational Association.