The importance of Catholic schools Print
Our Catholic Schools
Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

As we again prepare to celebrate Catholic Schools Week, we reflect on the importance and purpose of Catholic schools.

Why do we have Catholic schools? Why are they important? Why do they matter?

The short answer to this question is that Catholic schools exist to teach the Catholic faith and help parents place their children on the path of holiness and sainthood so they may attain heaven.

This is absolutely true, but it leads to other questions.

What does this really mean? What does it look like? How would you explain this to a child in a way that makes sense?

Students ‘fully alive’ in the faith

As I sat down to contemplate this, a few passages and quotations came to mind. The first was the quotation from St. Irenaeus, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”

Those words, “fully alive,” reverberated in my brain.

Yes. It is the mission of Catholic schools to develop the unique gifts of each and every child so they may fulfill their God given potential. We want our students to succeed in high school, in college, in the workplace, and in society. But beyond that, we want our students to be happy, joyful, to relish life, to help others, contribute to society, and find fulfillment in their work and in who they are.

Catholic schools work toward this by fostering children’s intellects and forming their character. Catholic schools recognize that all things come from God, and that because of this, all of creation, all knowledge, and all people are connected.

Students learn discipline, respect, virtues, values, and morals that will serve them for a lifetime, allowing them to navigate the storms of life and not just survive, but to be “fully alive!”

This is our wish for all students, to find joy and happiness by living lives of holiness and being “fully alive.”

This theme is echoed in the Gospel of John 10:10, “ . . . I came so they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Christ himself WANTS us to have life and to “ . . . have it more abundantly,” to be “fully alive!”

This then is what Catholic schools strive to transmit to their students.

Not merely the skills to be prepared to succeed in school and work, but the discipline, humility, and curiosity to wonder at the complexity of creation, the beauty of a sunrise, and the vastness of the starry night sky . . . to feel joy, happiness, sadness, compassion, empathy, awe, and wonder . . . to drink in all and embody all that it means to be “human,” to be “fully alive.”

Helping students lead full lives

The human soul yearns for life, and not just a ho-hum, hum drum life, but a vibrant, exciting, full life.

Our mission in Catholic schools is to help parents equip their children to lead full, active, vibrant lives where the children not only survive, but thrive and make tangible contributions by serving others and their community.

And the only way to do this, to live a full life, is to know and love Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6).

It is only through Christ, that we may have life and be “fully alive.”

Catholic schools introduce students to Jesus Christ. Catholic schools help lead students to discover their true identity as children of God, who contemplated them, and loved them from the beginning of time.

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jer 1:5). Imagine the confidence this truth inspires. What force could possibly defeat someone with the knowledge and confidence that he/she was made, is wanted and is loved by a force more powerful than all the superheroes in the world — by the very creator of the entire universe himself?

As the Gospel of John tells us, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you, and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you” (15:16-17).

Let our children know who they are

In Catholic schools, we let our children know who they are!

That they are precious, unique children of God created by him for a specific purpose.

We need to tell them every day, that God loves them immeasurably, that Jesus walks with them in all things good and bad, that the Spirit is with them always, and that God has a unique plan for each of their lives, which he calls them by name to fulfill.

Catholic schools and the dedicated teachers who demonstrate Christ’s love in countless ways each day make sure that our children know who they are! They strive to give our students the self-confidence of an identity rooted firmly in Christ that the waves of cultural change cannot wipe away.

Catholic schools prepare students for more school and the world of work; they form the whole person, body, mind and soul, that in Christ, they may realize the fullness of their humanity and be “fully alive!”

Imagine how different the world might be if every person realized and believed this truth, that our very identity and dignity comes from God.

How different the world might be if we all viewed every other person as possessing that same degree of dignity, as a child of God, and treated each other accordingly.

How different the world might be if people found their identity in Jesus rather than in the fleeting pleasures and pitfalls so far beneath their dignity.

Can you imagine such a world? I can. Catholic school principals can. Catholic school teachers can. Catholic school students can. And all of us in Catholic schools are working to make it so, that we might lead our students, to “bear fruit that will remain,” and to be “fully alive!”


Michael Lancaster is the superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Madison.