It is hard to believe that summer is almost over and a new school year is just upon us. Where does the time go? Soon parents will be sending their sons and daughters out the door with backpacks filled with books, notepaper and writing tools. It is time to settle down and let the learning begin anew!
During the past two years, the archdiocese has taken several initiatives to ensure that the Catholic education taking place in our 13 high schools and 83 elementary schools will continue to offer an excellent curriculum that is also accessible and financially affordable.
Since the introduction of the Archdiocesan Strategic Plan in 2010 and the formation of the Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Advisory Council (ACSAC) in 2011, a great deal of resources and work has been invested in addressing the current and future challenges of Catholic education.
In assessing the findings of these initiatives, the real condition of many of our schools surfaced for the first time. We realized then that it would take a considerable amount of effort to realize significant overall improvement within our local Church.
Taking positive steps
To address these difficulties, we are taking steps to improve the long-term sustainability of our Catholic schools by promoting increased collaboration, ongoing evaluation and greater accountability — including the adoption of uniform financial reporting methods.
We have also begun to implement uniform governance models in our elementary schools as well as uniform and comprehensive assessment systems to measure student academic achievement and growth, which allows us to compare ourselves with other public and private schools more easily.
Although change is always a challenge, we need to be proactive in offering solutions that will enhance the value of our schools.
The end to which these initiatives are ultimately aimed is a more vital and effective communion of faith, hope and love in both our parishes and schools. Putting the right structures and policies in place is essential for sure, but we must keep before us the overarching project of making the holy name of Jesus known and loved. Our Catholic schools are what I like to call “catechetical communities” wherein students not only learn the content of the faith, but are also formed in the practice of the faith.
In that regard, our Catholic schools are an important part of our mission because they are tools for the education, catechesis and formation of our youth in the Catholic faith. Without well-formed, educated students who know and live their faith, this local Church will certainly suffer. This is why it is so crucial to focus our efforts on strengthening the Catholic identity of our Catholic schools.
Make no mistake, the overall goal for all of our Catholic schools is to prepare young men and young women to be virtuous disciples of Christ. As such, they will be prepared to become active leaders in our Catholic Church as well as in our civic communities, bringing their gifts of faith and reason to the issues and challenges of our times.
To guide us toward this goal, we have before us a vibrant and cohesive mission statement: “The Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis form students to live out the Gospel message of Jesus Christ, achieve academic excellence, and lead by faith, virtue and reason.”
I believe that the vision behind this statement helps us to focus on just what constitutes a Catholic school and why a Catholic education makes such a critical difference in the lives of its students, their families and their faith communities.
When a school successfully establishes this identity and communicates it clearly, we find the school flourishing, attracting more and more families to its programs.
This vision for Catholic education must be inclusive; it is not something for the elite or the well-to-do. All families who wish to experience the benefits of a Catholic education should be able to find one that is both affordable and accessible.
Dedicated to our schools
As the new school year begins, let us remember with gratitude all those who have sacrificed to provide a Catholic education to young men and women. I wish to thank those parents, grandparents and caregivers who have sacrificed to provide the awesome gift of a Catholic education to the next generation.
I am also grateful to the principals, teachers and volunteers who, with strong leadership and great zeal, strive to provide that education to our children. Despite the challenges, both local and national, that face our Catholic schools today, the archdiocese will remain dedicated to reinvesting in our schools, helping them to be places of intellectual and spiritual excellence.
I believe that we are witnessing the beginning of a renaissance for Catholic schools in this archdiocese — and we as individual Catholics in this local Church have an essential role to play in this renewal. From pastors to parents, from teachers to parishioners, all can contribute toward this effort.
To be sure, there is much work that lies ahead, but the seeds have been planted for new growth for the next generation. Recounting the parable of the sower in Matthew’s Gospel, let us pray that these seeds will bear fruit of thirty, or sixty, or even a hundred fold.
God bless you!