In the 1990 statement, “In Support of Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools,” and repeated in the 2005 statement, “Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium,” the bishops of the United States made three ambitious commitments:
1. Catholic schools will continue to provide a Gospel-based education of the highest quality.
2. Catholic schools will be available, accessible, and affordable.
3. Catholic schools will be staffed by highly qualified administrators and teachers who would receive just wages and benefits.
So how are we doing in working toward these goals? Let’s take a look.
What distinguishes a Catholic school from every other school? It is not the externals, all the bells and whistles that we can find in schools that are paid for by taxpayer dollars. Rather, Catholic schools provide an education that is literally drenched in the Gospel and person of Jesus Christ. Public schools, no matter how well-equipped they are, will not do that — nor are they permitted to do that.
When Catholic schools offer a gospel-based education, this in no way implies that the overall quality of education in the so-called “secular” subjects is lacking. In Mark Berends’ “Handbook of Research on School Choice” (2009), researcher Helen Marks found that, when learning is done in an atmosphere of faith and moral values, test scores and other academic achievements far surpass those of public school students. This is the kind of Catholic school that we want in this diocese. It is, in fact, the kind of school that we have, schools with qualified administrators and excellent teachers. And our schools are getting better every day.
Without in any way disparaging parish-based religious education programs, common sense will tell us that a child cannot be as well-formed in the faith by one hour a week of religious education as he or she will be in a full-time Catholic school. Mary Gautier, in an article titled “Does Catholic Education Make a Difference?” (National Catholic Reporter, 2005), found that graduates of Catholic schools are notably different from Catholic children who did not attend a Catholic school in four important areas: fidelity to Sunday Mass and a keener sense of prayer; maintaining pro-life attitudes; the personal consideration of a religious vocation; and continued support for the local Church and community, both financially and through service for the balance of their adult lives.
These same findings were verified by the same author in a more recent study. Gautier writes: “Catholic schools are less available now than they were 50 years ago and fewer Catholics are sending their children to a Catholic school . . . Nevertheless, the data show that attending a Catholic school does make a difference in many aspects of Catholic identity and practice. For Hispanics in particular, Catholic schooling can also make a difference in socioeconomic status” (National Catholic Reporter, 2011).
When parents are asked why they do not enroll their children in a Catholic school, the number one answer is always the same – “We can’t afford it.” There’s no doubt about it. Catholic schools are expensive — too expensive for many families. Can we make Catholic schools affordable? I believe that we can — if every Catholic does his or her part.
No Catholic school can be adequately funded by parents alone. The entire Church – each and every Catholic, whether their parish has a school or not – is responsible for seeing to it that the faith is handed on to the next generation. And if it has been proven that Catholic schools are the best guarantee that our Catholic parishes will survive into the next generation, then we — every one of us — must see to it that our Catholic schools stay alive and grow.
Is it unreasonable to think that every desk in our schools can be filled, and that we can build even more schools? Not if we all contribute of our time, talent and treasure. Not if we place the formation of our children at the top of our list of priorities. Then, and only then, will our schools be available, accessible and affordable.
I have tried to make it very clear since I arrived in Colorado that the growth of Catholic schools was my number one strategic priority. As a bishop, I am committed to the preaching of the Gospel and the formation in the faith of every Catholic. I cannot do that effectively without Catholic schools. I pray that every Catholic will adopt this same priority.
Having just completed our celebration of Catholic Schools Week, I take this opportunity to express my profound gratitude to the administrators, faculties and staffs of our Catholic schools. They stand ready every day to assist parents in fulfilling their duty to educate their children in the Catholic faith. May God bless these educators for the wonderful work that they do.