Catholic Schools: Communities of Care
Fifty years ago, the people of the Church watched the news from Rome regarding the closing sessions of the Second Vatican Council. At the same time, the documents which would present the teaching of that Council were being published. Parishes often gathered people together to read and study these documents. They were fresh and beautiful as they put forth a new proclamation of an ancient faith and called people to reflect and think about what faith meant in today’s world
What the Council started continues even to today. Recently, in relation to the Synod on the Family which is to be held in Rome this October, the Office of the Synod, on behalf of Pope Francis, invited Catholics around the world to study the document prepared for the Synod and comment on it. The primary question put before the faithful was a request to suggest new ways in which the sacred value and fundamental importance of marriage and family life could be better presented today. The opportunity to comment on this document has been distributed in our parishes and can be found on our diocesan website. Please feel free to add your thoughts to those of other Catholics around the world.
Our present issue of Harvest is dedicated to our schools on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the first Catholic school in Maine. It is a worthy commemoration. Over the last year, I have spent a good amount of time visiting our schools and learning of the challenges and successes of these outstanding institutions of learning. Schools, like so many other aspects of Catholic life, were included in the reflection of the Fathers at Vatican II. An entire document was devoted to education, and there, the value of Catholic schools was put before the people of the Church:
“The influence of the Church in the field of education is shown in a special manner by the Catholic school. No less than other schools does the Catholic school pursue cultural goals and the human formation of youth. But its proper function is to create for the school community a special atmosphere animated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity, so that the knowledge the students gradually acquire of the world, life, and man is illumined by faith.” (Declaration on Christian Education, 1965, para. 25)
There are many things that recommend our Catholic schools. They are places where faith and life are seen to be joined. Academic excellence is an expectation in an institution grounded in the belief that each person is created in the image and likeness of God. Respect for the other, and learning to live and learn with others while developing an appreciation of the call for each of us to serve one another and those who need our care, is fundamental to a Catholic education. I have witnessed the importance of these things in my visits to our schools.
There is, however, one other value that sometimes gets forgotten in seeing the importance of the Catholic school, and that is the way in which these school communities strengthen and help Catholic families. Bishop Joseph Gerry, in his letter celebrating the 125th anniversary of our schools, spoke of the importance of our schools as places which communicate and foster “those values that give meaning and direction to the Christian family,” and contribute to the well-being of the Church and society.
Yes, I have seen time and time again that mutual and complementary assistance is provided when schools and families, joined by their common faith, strengthen each other through their cooperation. Parents and grandparents involved in the life of the school through their volunteer time and the sharing of their professional expertise enhance the community of the school. The school, in turn, provides a consistent assistance to parents as they take on the responsibility to share their faith and its moral convictions with their children. The friendships formed with other families in the school community strengthen the community in parishes and neighborhoods as they help to bring together people motivated by a common purpose and a common goal: providing a formation for their children which reflects faith and respects its values.
In sum, it can be difficult today to know how the values we cherish and the faith we share will be a part of our children’s lives. The community that surrounds our Catholic schools provides a way in which parents can find like-minded people of faith to support each other in living out the Christian message of Jesus and, by their own lives, show their children the joy of the Gospel.
Our Catholic schools are superb centers of faith and learning. I encourage you to consider one of them for your children. You will find them places where teachers, administrators, and families together create communities of care where our ancient faith is passed on to a new generation, bringing gladness to young hearts as they come to know Jesus and his love for each of them.
Most Rev. Robert P. Deeley, JCD
12th Bishop of Portland