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Catholic Schools: Learn, Serve, Lead, Succeed

Jan. 29, 2020

Sister Ellen Rose Coughlin, SSJ
Superintendent of Schools

You can count on certain events occurring at the same time each year. Such is the case with the national celebration of Catholic Schools Week which begins each year on the last Sunday of January. This annual celebration traces its beginnings to 1974 and the theme, Difference Where it Counts – Message, Community and Service. In the years that followed, subsequent themes emphasized the same three components.

As I prepared this article, I revisited the themes from previous years. Each one provided an opportunity to highlight the mission of Catholic Schools. Join me in looking at some themes from the past. They provide the unique qualities and character of Catholic schools.

2005: Catholic School Faith in Every Student. The seed of faith received in baptism, nurtured primarily by parents, is further developed in the Catholic school through instruction, example, and the support of the faith community. Students reach their full potential as human beings, children of God and members of God’s family, when the spiritual component of their lives is recognized and developed along with their intellectual and physical growth.

2007: Catholic Schools: The Good News in Education. Academic programs, competitive sports teams, a safe environment, the competence of the faculty and staff are vital aspects to a school’s vitality and good news that should be recognized. In a Catholic school, however, these components must be rooted in the Gospel. The academic program must address the whole child and therefore in light of the Gospel, acknowledge the spiritual and ethical development of the students. Athletic programs must be infused with Gospel values, respect for others, tolerance, cooperation, teamwork and sacrifice. Caring and safe environments are built upon mutual respect and love for others. The faculty and staff recognize and accept their responsibility to witness to the Gospel message in word and action. When all of this happens, the school becomes not only an educational community where children learn the human knowledge and skills necessary for life, but also a community of faith that is nourished by a relationship with Jesus, the Good News!

2010: Catholic Schools Dividends for Life. In the economic and business world the term dividends refers to a sum or quality of money to be divided among stockholders. The dictionary, however, offers an alternative meaning. A dividend is a “gift of something extra.” What is the gift . . . the something extra that students receive in a Catholic school? Christ is the gift that students encounter in our Catholic schools. And from this gift comes so much more, namely a supernatural vision of life, an awareness of the dignity of the human person, the experience of a faith community, a curriculum which acknowledges the relationship between faith and culture and the personal witness of teachers and administrators.

2012: Catholic School: Faith. Academics. Service. This theme focused on the three priorities of our Catholic schools. Our children and young people are taught the basics of our Christian faith. In addition to knowledge about our faith, students encounter the person of Christ, experience His love and learn how to become companions and disciples of Christ. Our academic programs provide the knowledge and skills our students need to be integral members of the Church and society. Here, too, Catholic schools have an added value. The Gospel and the teachings of the Church are integrated into all subject areas, programs and the environment of the school. No subject is only a secular pursuit. Each subject is enriched by the virtues that spring from the grace of the Gospel accepted and lived. Matthew’s Gospel is clear about the importance of service to our neighbor. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, promoting justice and comforting the suffering (cf. Mt 25:31-46) are works of service by which the disciple of Christ can reach out to others. Our very salvation depends upon recognizing Christ in our brothers and sisters and reaching out to them through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Service, noticing our brothers and sisters in need and reaching out to them is a vital component of a Catholic school.

This return to past themes is not simply a backward glance for the sake of acknowledging the mission of Catholic schools. It is an opportunity to celebrate that mission today, to make sure it is thriving in our schools and to continue our efforts to announce the Good News to the children, young people and families we serve.
This year’s theme, Catholic Schools: Learn – Serve – Lead – Succeed, encompasses the core products and values of our Catholic Schools. We can sing the praises of our schools recognizing that they:
• combine our Catholic faith with academic excellence;
• provide a balanced academic curriculum that integrates faith, culture and life;
• instill in students the values of service to others;
• partner with parents in the faith formation of their children;
• instill respect for the human person and all creation;
• emphasize moral development and self-discipline;
• recognize a person’s eternal destiny;
• prepare students to be productive citizens and future leaders;
• provide a safe and welcoming environment.

Catholic Schools Week will be celebrated in some of our schools during the week of January 29, the week designated for the celebration by the National Catholic Education Association. Other schools will celebrate it during February or March, often combining the week-long celebration with registration for the next school year.

I encourage those of you who have a Catholic school in your area to call or visit the school during Catholic Schools Week. A visit to one of our schools will give life to the words that describe who we are and what we are about in our schools.

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