"Why do we have Catholic schools?" I mean really, why do we have Catholic schools? It's a question I hear much too often.
Yet it is a question that I am passionate about answering, not just because I'm the superintendent, but because I've experienced Catholic schools as a student, a parent, a teacher, and an administrator, and I am completely, totally, and unequivocally convinced that Catholic schools are awesome!
I believe in Catholic schools, in their mission, in their work, in the children they teach, in the teachers who are committed to them, in the principals who lead them, and in the parents who sacrifice for them. Catholic schools make a needed and undeniable difference. I believe in Catholic schools.
Next week is Catholic Schools Week, an entire week dedicated to the celebration of Catholic schools, the great contributions they make to our community, and the people who run them and make them possible through their dedication and sacrifice. It is a week to celebrate what we believe: our belief in our faith and our belief in Catholic schools, their mission and their work.
What makes them different
You might ask, "Why do you believe in Catholic schools? What's so great about them?" Well, I'm glad you asked. I believe in Catholic schools because they make an incredible difference both in the lives of their students and in our society.
Faith. Academics. Service. These lie at the heart of every Catholic school. "Well," you might say, "public schools offer solid academics, and many emphasize service learning, and other religious schools offer faith, so what's so different about Catholic schools?" I'm glad you asked!
While it's true that public schools offer quality academics, and some emphasize service, nowhere else can you find schools where the Catholic faith is not only taught, but lived and witnessed.
Students in Catholic schools must know their faith and are taught to live it through the example and witness of the pastors, the staff, and the teachers who strive not only to teach, but to introduce their students to Christ each and every day, so He may transform their lives and lead them to live lives of holiness as they walk the path toward Heaven.
Everything comes from God
Yet, it is not simply the presence of our faith that distinguishes Catholic schools, but how Gospel values and the truth of our faith inform, inspire, and illumine all of our academic and altruistic efforts with the light of truth.
In short, everything that we do and all that we teach in a Catholic school begins with the understanding that everything comes from God and that each and every person is imbued with a sacred and inherent dignity as a child of God.
Thus, all that we do must respect this and we must strive to develop the God-given talents -- intellectual, physical, emotional, and social -- of each and every student. In doing so, we must strive for excellence. We must hold students to high standards so as to fully develop their talents and abilities.
Striving for holiness
We must do this so that our students will be prepared to succeed in life, but even more importantly, so that they value everything they have been given and use those gifts to make a better world and build God's kingdom on earth.
Likewise, as we strive to serve our neighbors, we do so not only because it feels good and helps our community, but because we strive to be like Christ by serving others as Christ did.
Although community service gives us feelings of satisfaction and benefits the larger community, it is primarily a means to live Gospel values, to imitate Christ, and to express love for humanity, recognizing that all people are children of God.
In short, Catholic schools teach our students to strive not only for excellence, but for holiness. Now what other schools do that?!
The Catholic worldview that informs all endeavors in Catholic schools not only cannot be replicated anywhere else, but it has proven to be an extremely effective means for educating students who are active, contributing members of their communities who strive to live the Gospel and make the world a better place.
Today, faith, academics, and service continue to form a solid foundation for our Catholic schools as we seek to educate good citizens and form young men and women who actively build God's kingdom on earth by serving others and striving always to walk the path of holiness.
Worth our time and support
I believe in Catholic schools. Our society needs Catholic schools and the tremendous service they provide. They are worth our time and our support.
Just imagine . . . how different would the world be if all children were taught to seek holiness?
As always, thank you for reading and may God bless you and your families.
Michael Lancaster is superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Madison.