by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
On Tuesday, Jan. 18, I celebrated Mass and had dinner at my residence with our Catholic high school presidents and principals. I enjoyed the evening and was edified by the faith and talent of those entrusted with the leadership of our Catholic high schools.
The continuance of Covid impacting our society has made this a challenging year for everyone, but especially for school leaders. I was very impressed by the commitment of our high school leaders to keeping our students and families safe, but also to working diligently to allow our students to receive in-person learning and to experience, as much as possible, a vibrant school community.
Beginning Sunday, Jan. 30, we observe National Catholic Schools Week. This year’s theme is “Faith — Excellence — Service.” Faith must be the foundation for Catholic education. The primary goal of our schools is to facilitate an environment where every student fosters a relationship with God who has revealed himself to humanity in Jesus Christ.
Sometimes, our Catholic schools are criticized for the success of our athletic teams. Some even accuse our schools of recruiting star athletes to give Catholic schools an edge in sports.
Catholic schools do have an edge. However, it has nothing to do with recruiting athletes. If we form students well in the faith, then they have an extra motivation on the athletic field, in choir, on the stage and in the classroom. This motivation comes from seeking to maximize the use of the gifts Our Lord has entrusted to them as a means to honor God!
Over the Christmas holidays, I read a book entitled “Heroism and Genius: How Catholic Priests Helped Build — and Can Help Rebuild — Western Civilization” by Father William J. Slattery.
During the Middle Ages with the leadership of Charlemagne and his priest counselor Alcuin, Father Slattery asserts that the Catholic Church made education accessible to many (regardless of class or wealth) through monastic and parochial schools. The Catholic Church also played an essential role in the development of the university and higher education in Western society.
Why did the scientific method and technology advance very rapidly in Western culture, rather than in more ancient and in many ways more advanced societies? Christianity, building upon its Jewish heritage, is convinced that the complexity, order and beauty of the natural world are reflections of the Creator and the fruit of divine intelligence. Therefore, the physical world is understandable and predictable. Catholicism affirms that faith and reason are partners in pursuing truth.
One of the founding principles of the American experiment of a democratic republic was a nation without an established religion. Though our Founders were overwhelmingly men of faith, the vast majority Christian, they were committed to a nation that did not impose any particular religious belief upon its citizens but rather protected the religious freedom of everyone.
There was a time when our public schools unofficially supported and promoted a Protestant Christian worldview. This is one of the principal reasons that the 19th- century U.S. Catholic bishops became committed to creating a robust Catholic parochial school system.
In an effort to correct this misuse of public education, during the mid-20th century, the federal courts attempted to remove all religious expression from government schools. Public schools were to provide a purely secular education to students, allowing parents to provide religious formation to their children.
While this seemed like a prudent and acceptable solution, it has become abundantly clear over time that while you can eliminate religious expression from schools, it does not remove all ideology. Secularism has its own belief system.
Government schools more and more are being used to advance ideological agendas that include approval of sexual intimacy outside of marriage, and promote contraception, abortion, gender theory, a conflict between faith and science, forms of Marxism, nihilism, hedonism, etc.
This is not to deny that there are many, many excellent and virtuous public education teachers and administrators. There are many public schools and school districts that work hard to attempt to keep many of these ideologies out of their schools.
However, the current leadership of the U.S. Department of Education supports most, if not all, of these ideologies. These ideologies have been embedded for decades in many of the education departments of major universities.
Do students need to learn about some of the flaws of our Founders and tragic mistakes of our nation’s history? Yes! However, they also need to learn why people from around the world still desperately seek to come to the United States.
What has made our nation great, despite the frailty of its citizens and leaders? What makes the United States remain a beacon of hope for so many who have experienced oppression and economic poverty in their native lands?
The Covid pandemic opened the eyes of many parents, as they viewed the virtual education of their children. We need reform of public education. School choice can help to accelerate such reform.
During the 10 years of my priesthood, while serving in primarily African-American communities, I asked Catholic as well as non-Catholic parents how the Catholic Church could best serve and assist the community.
The most frequent response was: “Keep your schools open in our neighborhoods.” Many non-Catholic parents realized that our parochial schools were the best opportunity for their children to climb out of the cycle of poverty.
During the pandemic, many non-Catholics gained an appreciation for our Catholic schools that, for the most part, remained open when many government schools offered only virtual education. Many took note of the zeal and dedication of our Catholic school presidents, principals and teachers that kept in-person education available to our students.
Parents also became more aware of some of the indoctrination that occurs with public schools. While government schools have been meticulous in preventing any attempts at Christian evangelization of students, they seem oblivious to the propagandizing of students to secularism and in its many daughter ideologies.
Sadly, Catholic schools are not geographically accessible to everyone. No matter; parents are the first teachers of their children in faith, morality and virtue. Our Catholic schools are intended to be a support, not a replacement, for Catholic parents.
Our parish schools of religion are also there to support parents in the religious and moral formation of their children.
During Catholic Schools Week, let us give thanks for Catholic school teachers and school of religion catechists.
My mother never attended a Catholic school until she went to college as an adult. She was by far the most influential teacher of the Catholic faith for me. I pray for all Catholic parents that they cherish the role and responsibility of being the first and most influential formators of their children in the faith.
Our parishes are eager to help them in this awesome and most important responsibility.