Archbishop Listeski Discusses the Value of Catholic Schools.
I graduated from my Catholic school toward the end of the height of Catholic education in the United States. My grammar school had 900 students, and when it came to school population in comparison to other schools, it was not exceptionally large. My school was filled with religious sisters, whose convent was right next door. It housed 36 religious sisters.
In addition to the grammar school, the sisters staffed and operated a girls’ high school. My sister attended and graduated from that high school. My neighborhood was predominantly Catholic, and the school was a significant part of our Catholic identity. It was an industrial area, so the students were products of hard-working parents, many who worked at U.S. Steel.
I mention this, because I want you to know the reason I am definitely biased when it comes to Catholic education. I know the value and the importance of the reinforcement that Catholic education provided in creating the vision necessary for me and others to navigate the course before us to become productive members of our society.
Of course, academics are important, and instilling a sense of academic achievement is part of the foundation. However, one’s success in life is not necessarily being the brightest, but one whose character has been built on the reinforcement of virtues that will shape the lives of individuals. Leaders were being created for the next generation.
Everyday, my classroom experience began with prayer, and everyday it ended with prayer. There was little doubt in the minds of the students that God held the primary position in your life. What supported this sense was the religious sister in her habit standing before you, whose life was dedicated to Christ and, because of her faith, she was serving this community. We were supported by the priorities of the greatest generation (as Tom Brokaw would write) – God, Family and Country.
Many would argue today that the picture I painted of Catholic education no longer exists. The religious sisters are almost all gone, educational costs limit the access for students, and competitive public education is free. These certainly are valid criticisms. However, just because the picture of Catholic education has changed, it does not mean that the purpose, spirit and vision of Catholic education has changed.
Why do parents send their children to Catholic school? I would hope because they desire an environment that places God first, and reinforces the Christian principles. Why did God make you? He made you to know, love and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him in heaven.
Yes, the religious sisters are no longer dominant in our schools. However, they have been replaced by professional lay Catholic teachers who are formed in the faith, and take that knowledge and formation into the Catholic parishes that comprise their communities. There is a whole new group of Catholic lay professionals that did not exist in the past.
Although spiraling costs have limited accessibility of some students, what was true years ago is still true today – Catholic education is marked by sacrifice and dedication. Parents sacrifice to send their children to Catholic schools. Parish members, through their contributions, sacrifice in their support of Catholic schools. Teachers accept salaries that are less than other comparable institutions, and priests and deacons sacrifice their time in forming and promoting the school community.
We should all have a spirit of gratitude for the many people who have supported, and continue to support, Catholic education. We, as a Church, need Catholic education in our society more today than ever before, supporting the dignity of human life and reminding us to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archdiocese of Milwaukee
Used with permission from the Archbishop’s blog Love One Another January 29, 2018