Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service

Each year, we rejoice in the great gift that is Catholic education during Catholic Schools Week.  This year, we are also observing the Archdiocese of Washington’s 75th anniversary. These dual celebrations remind us how our Catholic schools have educated generations of young people in our community, helping them to become leaders in their fields and – with hearts illuminated by the light of faith – meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

The theme this year – “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service” – particularly reflects the vital role that Catholic schools play in our community, nation and world because not only do they provide academic excellence, they also bear witness to the truth and love of Christ which brings meaning and fullness to life.  Pope Francis underscores their importance in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), noting, “Catholic schools, which always strive to join their work of education with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel, are a most valuable resource for the evangelization of culture” (No. 134).

Each day, an encounter with Jesus unfolds in every classroom for the approximately 28,000 students attending the 96 Catholic schools in Washington, D.C., and the five surrounding Maryland counties of St. Mary’s, Charles, Calvert, Prince George’s and Montgomery.  Here, children learn as a community and family of faith.  Students, teachers and administrators open and close their days with prayer, and the light of faith illuminates every classroom lesson and school activity. The Catholic identity at the heart of each of our schools in turn shapes the identity of each student, teaching them to walk with Jesus as his disciple in today’s world and share his love with others.

As communities of knowledge, our Catholic schools emphasize academic excellence, with over 99 percent of our high school students graduating and the vast majority going on to college. This past fall, three of our schools – Saint Peter School on Capitol Hill, Holy Cross School in Garrett Park, and Saint John the Evangelist School in Silver Spring – received the National Blue Ribbon School Award from the U.S. Department of Education. Overall, 27 schools in the archdiocese have received that prestigious award.

Our Catholic schools made another kind of “honor roll” earlier this month as I presented the Manifesting the Kingdom Award to five Catholic school administrators and teachers – principals Marianne Moore of Saint John the Baptist School in Silver Spring and Michael Friel of Mary of Nazareth School in Darnestown, and religion teachers Marita Riddick of Archbishop Carroll High School, Benedictine Brother Ignacio Gonzalez of Saint Anselm’s Abbey School, and Sister Emmanuella Ladipo, H.H.C.J., of Saint Augustine School in Washington.  Those honors show how each day our Catholic school principals, teachers, staff, volunteers and parents manifest God’s kingdom in our community.

Likewise, our young people help build God’s kingdom by their service to others. For example, 45 of our schools have participated in Catholic Charities’ “Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors” coat drive, collecting over 7,000 coats to provide warmth to our community’s poor this winter.  In addition, our schools participate in Catholic Relief Services’ Lenten Operation Rice Bowl collection that helps poor children around the world.

Supporting our Catholic communities of learning is the responsibility of all of us and to help keep them affordable, the Archdiocesan Tuition Assistance fund has awarded $5.5 million to nearly 4,200 students this school year.  Over the last four years, the fund has distributed over $20 million in tuition assistance to more than 15,000 recipients.  That annual support amounts to a more than six-fold increase in recent years, thanks largely to the support of Catholics in all of our 145 parishes and missions who recognize the significance of our Catholic schools.

Catholic schools are not simply institutions, they are communities – communities of faith, knowledge and service, a living witness to Christ and his message of loving communion with others.  In our time, they are a much-needed blessing, not only for the young people who attend them and their families, but for the whole Church and the whole world around us.