by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Last week, I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass and have dinner with eight of our Catholic school mothers who receive assistance from the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF). It was a very inspirational evening.
In the course of the night, each one of these parents expressed why a Catholic education for their children is so important to them. Some of them were single parents, who even with the assistance from CEF had to work two jobs to make it possible for their children to attend one of our Catholic schools. One of the families lived right across the street from a public school, but this mother got up early every morning to drive her children to a Catholic school before beginning her workday.
These mothers were convinced of the educational excellence of our Catholic schools. They wanted their children to learn in a safe environment. They made the heroic sacrifices to send their sons and daughters to one of our parochial schools because of the values that are taught and the virtues that are developed within our Catholic schools.
One of the moms shared how she begins every day by reading the Bible and praying with her children before they go to school and she goes to work. If she gets distracted with all of the commotion of getting everyone ready to begin the day, one of her children will remind her: “Mom, we haven’t prayed yet.” She told me how she was convinced that — no matter what happened during the day, good or bad — if she and her children prayed, they were better able to enjoy the blessings and better prepared to handle the difficulties.
These remarkable women really understood the first and the most important reason for our Catholic schools — namely, to provide our students with the opportunity to develop a close and personal relationship with Jesus and to learn what it means to be one of his disciples. These mothers knew and accepted their responsibility for being the first teachers of our Catholic faith to their children and they were very grateful for the tremendous assistance our schools provide them in fulfilling this responsibility.
One of the mothers asked me if I could help her answer the question of her son. He enjoyed playing basketball, but because his parish did not have a gymnasium, they had to negotiate with other parishes to have the opportunity for his team to practice. He wanted to know why their parish did not have a gym when other parishes did.
I explained to her that our elementary schools are parochial schools and as such they are funded and administrated for the most part locally. Our parochial system has many advantages. The vast majority of decisions regarding our schools are made at the parish level. The local parish community takes pride, ownership and responsibility for its school.
At the same time, because of economic differences among our parish communities, the parochial nature of our schools can lead to inequities in facilities and financial resources.
In a previous column, I have shared with you why I believe Catholic schools are so important today. In a society where our courts on one hand, uphold, in the name of freedom of speech, the right of individuals to express themselves with the most vile and offensive behavior and, on the other hand, ban the mention of Jesus Christ or anything that acknowledges the Christian heritage of our nation, we need schools where prayer and faith are celebrated.
In a secular culture that believes reason and faith are in opposition, we need schools where students are shown how faith and reason complement their mutual pursuit of the truth. In a cultural environment that attempts to deny objective moral truth in order to redefine the beginning of life, the nature of marriage, and to blur the distinction between pornography and art, we need schools where the truths of faith illuminate the other disciplines of learning.
I have a genuine concern about how to keep our Catholic schools affordable and accessible to everyone. I want to preserve, wherever possible, the parochial nature of our schools that has served the Catholic community so well in this country for many generations. The full financial burden of Catholic schools cannot and should not be borne by just parents. The entire Catholic community must accept our collective responsibility for our children and provide them with the best possible environment to form them in the truths and virtues of our Catholic faith.
The annual Call To Share campaign is one of the ways that we pool our resources as a Catholic community to help parents and parishes that are financially stressed. Catholic education is one of the biggest recipients of Call To Share revenues, as evidenced by the grants given to Catholic high schools and the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF).
Every parish needs all of its parishioners, even those who do not have children in school, to support generously the parish school. In addition to the support that your generosity enables Call To Share to give to CEF, we also need everyone who is able also to donate directly to CEF. This is the single best way that you can keep our Catholic schools affordable and accessible for everyone.
I wish that everyone reading this column could have had the opportunity to spend an evening with some of our Catholic school parents who are making heroic sacrifices to give their children the gift of a Catholic elementary or secondary education. I know if you did, you would feel very good about the sacrifices you are already making to support our Catholic schools, and you might even be motivated to find a way to be even more generous.