What if there were no Catholic schools?

| Jean Houghton | January 24, 2019 | 0 Comments

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Imagine our community without Catholic schools.

Go ahead. Take a moment and consider what our community would look like without these sacred places, where our children go each day to engage in a faith-filled education surrounded by supportive, nurturing adults and a rich spiritual environment.

Then, consider what our nation would look like without these schools. For more than 150 years, Catholic schools have provided this country with countless human, social and financial benefits. They save taxpayers real money by keeping thousands of students out of often over-crowded public classrooms. They produce many of our nation’s current and former leaders. They form children who are better prepared for college and more civically engaged than their peers.

It is no stretch of the imagination to say that our country is better off because Catholic schools have been woven into its foundational fabric.

The more I reflect on this idea, the more I struggle to form the image in my head. I am aware that for some communities around the country, what is a thought exercise for us in the Twin Cities is reality. The changing landscape of our Church and education system has made it all too real that they already live in a world with no local Catholic school. I am not blind to the fact that our schools here and nationwide continue to experience complex challenges. Transitioning from a financial model that relied on the nearly free labor of heroic religious women and men to a model relying on increasing levels of tuition to support livable wages for lay teachers and staff is no small feat.

I simply cannot see this community without its Catholic schools. Their splendor and vibrancy — here, today — are seared permanently into my mind. That’s what I see when I close my eyes.

Recently, our team at the Aim Higher Foundation set out to deliver our tuition-assistance scholarship checks to all K-8 Catholic schools in this archdiocese on behalf of the 1,300 scholars we support.

Every school — every school — we visited was filled with the joy of students experiencing a Christ-centered, family-focused formation where students are held to high standards and given the resources to meet — or exceed — those expectations. Every school was filled with happy children, engaged teachers and grateful school leaders, with tiny handshakes and big smiles. Every school united a financially, racially and religiously diverse community in an unshakable and unapologetically Catholic identity. This is what I see when I close my eyes.

I see the warm welcomes we received, from the moment we pressed the predictably placed buzzers and entered the always-busy school offices, to the goodbyes that always included a request for us to come back and visit the upcoming science fair, or to see a student performance or to join them at their next all-school Mass.

And then there were those heaven-sent moments. When I close my eyes, I see the face of parents who, upon learning who we were, beamed in gratitude to tell us their child received a scholarship, and without the access it granted them to their school, would not have learned to read or would not have been accepted into high school. The child who eagerly told us about her family at home and her family at school. The principal who recounted a story of a refugee parent who had fled Liberia after her father was killed and was experiencing immigration challenges, who came to the office in tears — not because she had to return to Liberia, but because her child might have to leave the school.

No, I can’t imagine our community — or our country — without our Catholic schools. That vision won’t form in my mind. Instead, during this Catholic Schools Week, let’s all envision what might be if our Catholic schools continue to thrive and grow.

Houghton is president of the Aim Higher Foundation, which provides need-based scholarships to students attending all 79 K-8 Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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Category: The Local Church