Catholic schools: Solutions for the future Print
Our Catholic Schools
Thursday, Apr. 30, 2009 -- 12:00 AM
Our Catholic Schools by Michael Lancaster

"Why do Catholic schools exist?" "Why do we have Catholic schools?"

"Aren't the public schools just as good academically?" "Don't Catholic schools just teach more religion?"

"Why do we have a Catholic school when our parish already offers excellent religious education?"

These are questions that, over my short tenure as superintendent, I have heard uttered by parishioners, my colleagues in public schools, and many others. As a matter of course, I have discussed these questions with colleagues, parents, teachers, and, most recently, the many volunteers from throughout the diocese who served as members of Core Teams for Catholic Schools Planning.  

These are some of the critical questions that must be asked as we move forward with planning the future of our Catholic schools. During the next phase of the planning process, we will be traveling throughout the diocese, inviting all people to join us in brainstorming sessions to create solutions to the challenges which must be met to ensure the future of our schools. I have included the schedule of these meetings with this article and hope that all of you might attend one of the sessions.

In the coming weeks I will write more directly about the work of the Core Teams and the challenges they identified. However, before we undertake solutions to challenges, it is important to know why Catholic schools exist, what is their purpose and mission, and where they fit both into the structure of the Church and that of modern society.

So, let's start at the beginning, "Why do Catholic schools even exist?"


Catholic schools exist to teach the Catholic faith and place students on the path to sainthood to which all people are called. This is the mission of Catholic schools. Catholic schools accomplish this mission by teaching and proclaiming the Gospel, evangelizing. Thus, Catholic schools serve the evangelizing mission of the Church. This mission was given to us by Christ when He commanded his disciples to, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you . . . " (Mt 28:19-20).

This mission serves as the basis for the teaching office of the Church, in which all bishops share. Catholic schools assist in this teaching office and serve as an important means of transmitting the Catholic faith to future generations. This is the primary mission of Catholic schools, to teach the faith through proclaiming, living, and witnessing the Gospel message.

In order to truly appreciate and understand this mission, we must recognize that the work of evangelization is not limited only to bishops and priests. Every baptized Christian is called to the work of evangelization, spreading the Gospel Truth of Christ.

Parental obligation

While all Christians are called to evangelize, parents have a special responsibility in this regard. Parents witness to this obligation at the baptism of each child as they, and the godparents, promise publicly to teach and raise the child in the Catholic faith.

According to the Code of Canon Law: "Before all others, parents are bound to form their children, by word and example, in faith and in Christian living. The same obligation binds godparents and those who take the place of parents." (Canon 744§2).

In addition to forming their children in the faith, parents also have the awesome responsibility of educating their children. Again, according to Canon Law: "Parents, and those who take their place, have both the obligation and the right to educate their children. Catholic parents have also the duty and the right to choose those means and institutes which, in their local circumstances, can best promote the Catholic education of their children." (Canon 793§1).

All the answers?

As any parent knows, educating children in the faith is no easy task. As a parent myself, I have more than once experienced the frightening feeling of being confronted with your own ignorance, the dread of not knowing the answer or how to explain to a six-year-old who asks such profound, soul searching, and heart wrenching questions:

"Daddy, if God really loved Jesus, why did He let the soldiers kill him?"

"Daddy, why does God make some people mean?"

"Daddy, why did God let those people die in the earthquake? Why didn't he just save them, like Superman? He could do that, right? God can do anything, right?"

Questions like these quickly revealed my own ignorance and uncertainty. When a child looks to you for all the answers, and all you can do is your own inadequate best, well, it makes you feel rather small and helpless. As a parent, nothing is worse than feeling helpless. Well, the good news is that there are many resources to assist parents, and Catholic schools are one of them.

As Catholic schools are centered on the truth that is Christ, Catholic values are taught not only in religion class, but are woven throughout all subjects and activities. As teachers, staff, and parents strive daily to live the faith and to lead by their example, they create a community of faith in which all members, especially the students, come to know and live their faith. In this way they encounter Christ. In this way Catholic schools evangelize and assist parents in the awesome responsibility of educating their children in the faith.

Strong partnership needed

As Catholic schools serve to assist parents, it is critical that there be a very strong partnership between the school and the parents. We recognize parents' critical role, as well as the contributions and sacrifices of all those who came before and dedicated time, energy, and effort to Catholic schools. We invite everyone to attend one of the Task Force meetings listed below.

Meetings are being held in various locations throughout the diocese in the hopes that as many people as possible might attend the meeting nearest them.

I will continue addressing the large questions that deal with the Catholic schools planning as well as provide more specifics regarding Task Force meetings in future weeks. As always, thank you for reading and may God bless your families abundantly during this Easter season.

Michael Lancaster is the superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Madison.

Catholic Schools – Solutions for the Future

Please attend the one meeting that works best for you. All meetings are from 6 to 8 p.m.

  • Wednesday, May 27 -- Montello Area: St. John the Baptist Parish Hall
  • Wednesday, May 27 -- Milton Area: St. Mary Parish Hall
  • Thursday, May 28 -- Watertown Area: St. Bernard School Gym
  • Thursday, May 28 -- Lancaster Area: St. Clement Parish Hall
  • Tuesday, June 2 -- Wisconsin Dells: St. Cecelia Parish
  • Tuesday, June 2 -- Fort Atkinson: St. Joseph School
  • Wednesday, June 3 -- Madison Area: Bishop O'Connor Center
  • Wednesday. June 3 -- Cuba City Area: St. Rose Parish Hall
  • Wednesday. July 22 -- Plain Area: St. Luke Parish Hall
  • Wednesday. July 22 -- Brodhead Area: St. Rose of Lima Parish Hall
  • Thursday, July 23 -- Madison Area: Bishop O'Connor Center
  • Thursday, July 23 -- Dodgeville Area: St. Joseph School