by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
This week is Catholic Schools Week. This year’s theme encourages us to celebrate the gift Catholic schools are to the students, families, the church and the entire community.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution that in part states: “Catholic schools serve the nation by providing a diverse student population from all regions of the country and all socioeconomic backgrounds a strong academic and moral foundation, including 41.4 percent of students from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds and 19 percent from non-Catholic families.”
The U.S. Senate resolution affirms that Catholic schools “are an affordable option for parents, particularly in underserved urban areas. . . . Whereas the Catholic high school graduation rate is 99 percent with 86 percent attending four-year colleges.”
Based on the average public school per pupil cost of $11,454, Catholic schools provide $21 billion in savings each year for the nation.
Catholic schools and teachers deserve to receive these well-earned accolades from the Congress because they make a significant contribution to our nation. However, the purpose of our schools is not to save taxpayers money or superior graduation rates.
The purpose of our Catholic schools is not to win football, basketball, volleyball or soccer championships. The purpose of our Catholic schools is not to have the best choral singers, superior dramatic presentations or the best art program.
The purpose of our Catholic schools is not to achieve the best scores on standardized tests, the most National Merit scholars or graduates gaining admittance and earning scholarships to the college of their choice.
The purpose of our Catholic schools is not to collect the most canned goods for Catholic Charities or for our students to accumulate the most service hours in the community. These are all laudable achievements, but they are not the primary reasons why our Catholic schools exist.
The purpose of our Catholic schools is to assist parents in the spiritual formation of their children. The purpose of our Catholic schools, plain and simple, is to help young people to know Jesus.
It is not enough for our young people to know about Jesus. Our schools are designed to help our students develop a friendship with Jesus, to experience his personal love for them.
For this to happen, our young people need to develop a rich prayer life. Our schools strive to assist parents in helping their children build the habit of speaking daily to Jesus about all that is going on in their lives and, just as importantly, to learn how to discern the voice of God as he speaks to them through the Bible, through the events of their lives and through quiet moments of prayer.
Catholic schools also help young people develop a love for the bride of Jesus, his church. They come to understand that one cannot follow Jesus alone.
We need to be part of a community of fellow disciples who support and encourage each other in living lives of virtue and heroic love in the world. Catholic schools help young people embrace the importance of being part of a community of believers — the church.
The church founded by Jesus has certain defining marks. Our Lord’s church has to be, first and foremost, apostolic. An apostolic church has to be able to trace its roots back to the apostles.
Thus, the successors of the apostles, the bishops, share in the authority that Jesus himself gave to his apostles. Thus, the moral and doctrinal truths of the church are not determined by popular vote or what is trending on social media.
The church of Jesus must be catholic, which means universal and, at the same time, one. The church of Jesus does not belong to any particular race, nation, ethnic group or culture.
Our unity is not based on being the same in the externals of our lives, but in having the same Lord. Jesus prayed that his disciples might be one as he and the Father are one so that the world would believe in him. It is Our Lord’s ability to unite in one family of faith different races, nationalities, ethnicities and cultures that compels the world to take notice of the Gospel.
Finally, the church of Jesus must be holy. The holiness of the church is not based upon the perfection of its individual members. From the pope to the newest member in the pew, we are all sinners in desperate need of Our Lord’s mercy.
The church’s claim to holiness is derived from Our Lord’s promise to remain with his church until the end of time. The church is holy because the promised Holy Spirit continues to guide and lead the church through all the snares of this world.
If we get the primary mission of our Catholic schools right — namely, to nurture in our students their friendship with Jesus and love for his bride, the church — then we will experience excellence in the classroom, athletic field, laboratory, theater and our service to others.
This excellence will come naturally because of the motivation of our faculty and students to do their very best as a means of giving glory to God.
Our Catholic schools are helping to form future saints, who are striving to make it to heaven and bring as many others as possible with them. Truly, there is much to celebrate in our Catholic schools.