The work of educating leaders for today and tomorrow who will help build a better world, what we as Christians see as the manifestation of the kingdom of God, has been central to the Catholic schools, parish religious education and youth ministry programs of the Archdiocese of Washington since it was founded in 1939. Indeed, it has been a hallmark of Catholic education here since the beginning of our country.
That vision was at the heart of the founding of Georgetown College in 1789 as the first Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States, and at the establishment of Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School 10 years later as the first Catholic all-girls school in the new nation. The same vision guided the free men and women of color who in 1858 founded what became Saint Augustine Church in Washington, first as a school so their children could have an opportunity for a better life. That vision led to the founding of Archbishop Carroll High School in 1951 as one of Washington’s first fully integrated schools, as well as the 2007 establishment of Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park with its innovative work study program.
From the time when teachers at local Catholic schools taught at chalkboards, to today when students learn on laptops and iPads, academic excellence has marked Catholic education here. The “honor roll” of Catholic school students and graduates from the Archdiocese of Washington over the years includes priests and sisters, doctors, scientists, business executives, political leaders, Olympic gold medalists, an opera singer, a space shuttle astronaut, and many more good people who help build up the temporal order. Twenty-seven schools in the archdiocese have been named as National Blue Ribbon Schools in the 30-year history of the award.
Our 68 Catholic elementary schools, along with our 20 Catholic high schools and seven early childhood centers, will serve approximately 27,000 students this school year. Our parish elementary and high school religious education and youth ministry programs will serve about 25,000 students taught by nearly 2,700 parish catechists.
The participants in our Archdiocesan Synod universally appreciated the great importance of Catholic education, both in our Catholic schools and in our programs of religious education, including sacramental preparation, youth and adult faith formation, and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, as well as ministries to youth and young adults. The Synod members made many recommendations, each in the context of fostering an encounter and growth in friendship with Jesus Christ, through a variety of initiatives and resources, including classroom study, informal gatherings and print and digital media.
The Synod affirmed that Catholic education should be illuminated by the light of faith and inspire students to reflect Christ’s light in their everyday lives. To ensure academic excellence and the Catholic identity of our educational efforts, Synod members stressed the importance of proper formation and oversight of teachers, catechists, ministers and staff, so as to best serve students of all ages, including those with special needs.
Synod participants also highlighted the need for supporting ongoing efforts to make our Catholic schools and educational programs more accessible and affordable. The future of Catholic schools depends on all of us working together. Following an extensive consultative process, the archdiocese adopted new policies in 2009 to strengthen and sustain Catholic schools. Now, Catholics at all local parishes support Catholic education, and 112 out of 139 parishes have entered into regional school agreements. With the support of local Catholics and other community members, the archdiocese has greatly expanded its tuition assistance to families, awarding $5.7 million for the 2014-15 school year.
As another school year begins, Jesus’s great commission to his disciples to share the Good News continues to unfold in our Catholic educational efforts. We all benefit from this, as students, young and old, are equipped to build up the kingdom of God in today’s world.