Catholic Schools Week

Catholic Standard photo/Michael Hoyt

Five years ago this spring, Pope Benedict XVI, himself a former university professor, seemed right at home as he addressed Catholic educational leaders from across the United States who gathered in Washington, D.C., at the Catholic University of America.

“Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News,” said the Holy Father who serves as the shepherd, pastor and teacher of the world’s Catholics.  “First and foremost, every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth.”

As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2, Pope Benedict’s words remind us how Catholic schools are a great gift both to the Church and to the nation.  The theme of Catholic Schools Week, “Catholic Schools Raise the Standards,” highlights the academically excellent, faith-filled education the nation’s Catholic schools provide.

In that meeting, the Holy Father went on to emphasize how Catholic schools inspire students to “grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and his teaching.”

I have often noted that in Catholic schools, Christ is present in every classroom, not only in the crucifix on the wall, but also in the way that, from the opening prayer to the closing prayer in each school day, students learn to live and love as Jesus did.  That truly sets Catholic schools apart.

In his address to Catholic educators, Pope Benedict XVI underscored how Catholic schools are a place to encounter and meet Jesus, and to be transformed by his love and truth:  “In this way, those who meet him are drawn by the very power of the Gospel to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good and true; a life of Christian witness nurtured and strengthened within the community of our Lord’s disciples, the Church.”

Pope Benedict, who has made the New Evangelization a hallmark of his papacy, is a teacher who knows that Christ the teacher is indeed present in all our Catholic schools, where students learn to be disciples – Jesus’ friends – and then learn to be evangelists who witness to his truth and love.

We can be justly proud of the impact our 97 Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington make each and every day, where 28,000 students in pre-kindergarten through the 12th grade are learning to be the future leaders of our Church, our community and our world.  And we can be grateful for how the Catholics in our 139 parishes are investing in Catholic education, and have helped to provide $15 million in tuition assistance over the past three years, to help make Catholic education more accessible and affordable for local families.

This past fall, three of our Catholic elementary schools earned the Blue Ribbon School Award from the U.S. Department of Education – Blessed Sacrament School in Washington, St. Peter School in Olney, and Father Andrew White, S.J. School in Leonardtown.  Fittingly, these schools, recognized as among the nation’s best, represent the different regions of the archdiocese, from the city to the suburbs to the rural countryside.  Over the years, 24 of our schools have been designated Blue Ribbon Schools.

Like all our schools, these Blue Ribbon Schools are characterized by rigorous academics and strong Catholic identities.  The experience of God’s presence, the support of a loving and faith-filled community, and the recognition of the importance of prayer are all part of the learning experience every day for all the students attending our Catholic schools.

As I wrote in my 2008 pastoral letter on Catholic Education, Looking to the Future with Confidence, “Looking to the future of Catholic education, we should do so with hope, confidence and enthusiasm, knowing that we bring something to those we teach that no one else can. We share the story of Jesus.”

That is worth celebrating during Catholic Schools Week, and every day!