Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades delivered this talk at the Light of Learning Award luncheons in Fort Wayne and South Bend last week:
Thanks to the generosity of Quality Dining and the Fitzpatrick family, we celebrate each year this luncheon during Catholic Schools Week in which we honor and thank our teachers, principals, and benefactors. It is an event that reminds us of the gift of our Catholic schools and their important mission in the Church. That mission would not be fulfilled without the exemplary service of the outstanding educators whom we honor today. That mission would not be fulfilled without the generosity of so many who financially support our schools. And that mission would not be fulfilled without the commitment of our pastors who make Catholic education a priority in our parishes. I thank all of you.
The theme of Catholic Schools Week this year is: Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service. I’d like to speak about each of these three aspects of Catholic education.
First: faith. Of course, faith is at the very heart of the mission of our schools. That’s why they exist in the first place: to form children and young people for a personal and living encounter with Jesus Christ. The identity of our schools is rooted in the Gospel. Catechesis in the Catholic faith is not only a fundamental part of the academic curriculum. It is infused in the whole environment of the school where the faith is integrated into the culture and life of the community. Every winter, I spent a day at each of our four Catholic high schools. Two weeks ago, I visited Saint Joseph High School. There one of the teachers shared with me the results of a survey she had given her students asking them how their lives had changed since they first became students at Saint Joe’s. Here are some of the responses:
+ Since I started at Saint Joe’s, I have learned so much about my faith, which has helped me learn more about myself. I have been able to surrender to God and let His love change my life.
+ I have learned so much about Catholicism and discovered its beauty, and I have made some of the best friends I’ve ever had.
+ My faith in God has become ten times stronger than when I began at St. Joe’s. I have also come to appreciate life a thousand times more.
+ My faith life has matured and grown since I began here at Saint Joe.
+ I have been been brought closer to God through the Saint Joe community.
+ My faith has grown since I became a student here. I am now comfortable sharing my faith with other people my age.
So many other responses reflect the same sentiments. Many write that they have become stronger in their faith and many describe their experience as “life-changing.” I’m sure that a survey at our other high schools would reveal similar results. It is clear that formation in the faith is a hallmark of our Catholic schools, one that is bearing fruit in the lives of our young people.
The second aspect of our Catholic schools highlighted this year is knowledge. We have a responsibility to provide our young people with an academically rigorous program of education. This is not separate from their formation in the faith since our academic curriculum seeks to integrate faith, culture, and life. Catholic values are an integral part of every subject that is taught. This shows that we are about the education of the whole child, the formation of the whole person: spiritual, intellectual, psychological, social, moral, and physical. Catholic education aims at the integral formation of the human person. The pursuit of knowledge is not just about learning facts and figures, as important as they may be. It is about the pursuit of wisdom and truth, an education for life and not just for a career. Success in measurement of accomplishing this goal is not always easy. But we can point to many outcomes that illustrate the success of our Catholic schools: test scores, high school graduation rates and attendance at colleges. All the sociological data illustrate the academic excellence of the 6,568 Catholic schools in the United States. We can proud of this. However, what gives me the greatest pride is our formation of young people as missionary disciples of Jesus. I wish to point out as well that we must never be satisfied to rest on our laurels. We must never be self-satisfied, but strive for greater academic excellence and stronger faith formation.
The third aspect of this year’s Catholic Schools Week theme is service. Why is this so important? Because what our students learn is not meant to remain in their heads. It is to be lived. We don’t just want our young people to hear the Gospel. We teach them to respond to the Gospel. If our students are truly evangelized, they become witnesses to Christ in their lives. They go forth to serve others, especially the poor, the marginalized, the sick and the suffering, and the vulnerable. Several hundred of our Catholic school students were with me last week at the March for Life in Washington. This is just one sign of how our young people are taught to bear witness. They learn to respect life and to love and serve the most vulnerable in our human family, the unborn. On the other end of the spectrum of life, I see many of our Catholic school students reaching out to the elderly and helping them, visiting nursing homes, bringing the joy of their faith to those who may be lonely or neglected. I could give many other examples of the service our students do in their local communities. Service is indeed a hallmark of Catholic school education.
Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge, and Service. That’s what we strive to be. The connection between all three is necessary. Thanks to our educators, our students see the essential connection between faith and reason, between knowledge and goodness, between truth and beauty, between justice and charity, between intellect and virtue.
Thanks again to all of you. We are all partners in this noble endeavor of Catholic education. May God bless you and may God bless our Catholic school communities!