Educating Today’s Scholars and Tomorrow’s Saints
By Sheila Whalen
"The contemporary world urgently needs the service of educational institutions which uphold and teach that truth is ‘that fundamental value without which freedom, justice and human dignity are extinguished.’” — St. Pope John Paul II (Veritatis Splendor, n.4)
Each year, we take a week to celebrate the amazing gift of Catholic education. The Catholic Church runs the largest network of private schools in the United States, and history shows that Catholic schools are an essential part of the Church’s identity and mission. Today, we stand on the shoulders of determined bishops, priests, religious congregations, and parishioners who established Catholic schools during the 18th and 19th centuries. The Catholic priests and nuns who created faith-filled and academically-challenging schools made many sacrifices and overcame many obstacles. Those first schools were established in direct response to the anti-Catholic prejudices that existed in the government schools, and they played a crucial role in educating the immigrant children of that time. Those children went on to become responsible citizens who shared their gifts with their parishes and communities.
In the Diocese of Colorado Springs, we not only have a long history of Catholic education, we are blessed with a bishop who is an ardent supporter of Catholic schools. Bishop James Golka frequently speaks about the role Catholic education played in his vocation to the priesthood, as well as the sacrifices his parents made for him and his nine siblings to attend Catholic schools. In support of parents who desire the gift of a Catholic education for their children, The Bishop’s Scholarship Fund and the Diocesan Ministry Appeal has distributed over $730,000 to students and schools for tuition assistance in this school year.
We must also recognize that the great work of our diocesan schools is possible because the parish priests are champions for Catholic education. Thank you for saying “yes” when asked to serve in a parish with a school! And we are blessed with a group of dedicated principals who are passionate about the mission of each of their schools. They model servant leadership and make personal sacrifices every day to serve children and families, knowing that parents are the primary educators of their children. Thanks also to our dedicated teachers. They know that teaching in a Catholic school is a real vocation and not a job. They develop relationships with their students so each one knows they are a unique and loved child of God.
The Office of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Colorado Springs is working to ensure that the tradition of Catholic education is vibrant and strong. We are working with the Meitler Group to develop a Strategic Growth Plan that will provide the path for Catholic education for the next 5–10 years. As a part of the process, we have the discussed the question, “Why do we need Catholic education?” For those of us who devote our lives to Catholic education, the answer is clear. We believe that our mission is for the salvation of souls and to make disciples of Christ by forming students in the Catholic intellectual tradition.
The Catholic schools in the Diocese of Colorado Springs have joined with other Catholic schools across the United States in renewing the evangelizing mission of Catholic education. In the last three years, we have partnered with the Augustine Institute, The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education and the University of Dallas to form teachers in the faith and the Catholic intellectual tradition. Teachers are learning about the pedagogy needed to bring this tradition into their classrooms and embrace Christ as the logos in all they do. We are sharing God’s wisdom, knowledge and truth so our students develop a Catholic world view.
We teach that faith and reason work in tandem with — not in opposition to — each other. Our Catholic schools are committed to forming each child’s intellectual, moral, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs so the child can develop his or her God-given gifts and talents. “For a true education aims at the formation of the human person in the pursuit of his ultimate end and of the good of the societies of which, as man, he is a member, and in whose obligations, as an adult, he will share.” (Gravissimum Educationis, 1)
I ask for your prayers as we continue this work to create a plan for this and the next generation of Catholic children in the Diocese of Colorado Springs.
(Sheila Whalen is Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Colorado Springs.)