The U.S. bishops are celebrating Catholic Schools Week with renewed determination to “transform” Catholic education in America and help parents understand why children need spiritual development as well as academic achievement.
“The concern of the bishops is that Catholic schools are valuable, Catholic schools transform lives,” said Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, Chairman the USCCB’s Committee on Catholic Education, to the Catholic News Service (CNS).
“It’s not only talking about academics. It’s not only a matter of discipline, but it’s a matter of preparing the whole person for college and for heaven.”
In today’s secular society, many parents just don’t see the relevance of religious formation, which points to a greater need for evangelization.
“Just programs to get people into church are not enough. We have to change hearts,” he said. “It’s not simply a matter of an intellectual decision. It’s a realization that I want the very best for my son or my daughter. And part of the best is that that child is eventually in heaven.”
Turning the tide is a daunting task, but with God, all things are possible.
As CNS reports, the latest figures from the National Catholic Educational Association show 1,393 Catholic school closings or consolidations from 2007 to 2017 compared with 287 school openings. During the same period, enrollment declined by 19 percent to less than 1.9 million students. Compare this to the peak enrollment that occurred in 1965 when more than 5.2 million students were attending Catholic schools.
The bishops are not alone in their quest for breathing new life into Catholic schools. Lay-run organizations, such as the Cardinal Newman Society, are also hard at work trying to revitalize the central mission of Catholic education – the formation and salvation of souls.
The Society sponsors a national program known as the Catholic Education Honor Roll which recognizes high schools that are committed to strong Catholic identity.
“Recognized schools commit to and model the Principles of Catholic Identity in Education, which The Newman Society has derived from Catholic Church teaching and guidance on elementary and secondary education,” the Society explains.
“The five principles are: Inspired by Divine Mission; Models Christian Communion; Encounters Christ in Prayer, Scripture, and Sacrament; Integrally Forms the Human Person; and Imparts a Christian Understanding of the World.”
All Catholic high schools can apply as long as they have been operational for three or more years, have a practicing Catholic as the primary administrator, provide four years of Catholic theology and agrees to model the five principles.
Once approved as an Honor Roll school, a school receives a certificate of recognition that is good for five years as well as a media packet highlighting recognition.
“Recognized schools find the positive publicity associated with the award a powerful way to increase reputation, enrollment, and donations,” the Society reports. “This nationally recognized status enables schools to tell not just their local populations but also colleges, universities, and a broad national audience that they excel as outstanding Catholic schools.”
Other faithful lay organizations are also involved in helping to turn the tide. Programs such as the Young Women of Grace study for girls ages 13+ prove that learning about the faith can not only be fun, but is a great way to form young women in the kind of authentic femininity that can inoculate them against the toxic effects of today’s secular culture.
“Our program teaches girls that their dignity doesn’t come from wearing the right clothes or knowing the right people – it comes from being a daughter of God,” says Susan Brinkmann, OCDS, co-author of the study.
The course, which can be taught in the classroom, as an afternoon club, in the home or homeschool coop, has an imprimatur from Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
“No matter how misogynistic are the lyrics in the latest rap song or images in magazines, girls learn that their dignity is inherent and no one can take it away from them. As a result, our classes become ‘safe spaces’ where every girl is beautiful, every girl is loved, and every girl becomes part of a ‘sacred sisterhood’ that surrounds them with like-minded and caring friends.”
Catholic schools may indeed be facing challenging times but, like so many times in the Church’s history, when the Body of Christ works together to solve problems, great things can happen!
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