Thanks go to many for their efforts, sacrifices in supporting Catholic education
Catholic Schools Week will be celebrated across the United States and here in the Archdiocese of Omaha Jan. 29 to Feb. 4. During this special observance, we take time to recognize the blessing that Catholic education is to families, parishes and communities across our country. This is also an opportunity for me to give thanks to all who make this good work possible, as well as to brag a little about the Catholic schools in our archdiocese.
To help us share the good news about our schools with as many in the community as possible, we began a couple of years ago an effort called "Awaken Greatness." A special website has also been developed to describe the mission and the benefits of our Catholic schools (lovemyschool.com). Funds to make this very professional effort to share the good news possible have come from the "Ignite the Faith" campaign. I hope you will take the time to look at all that is available on the website and to refer parents of school-age children to the site.
For the second year in a row, we have seen an overall increase in Catholic school enrollment across the Archdiocese of Omaha. Our effort to publicize our schools has certainly helped, but it is just one part of a larger strategy. We continue to work hard to raise the scholarship funds that help less affluent families choose Catholic schools. The work of CUES in support of inner-city schools and our partnership with the Children’s Scholarship Fund are particularly valuable.
While the majority of our elementary schools remain parish schools, we have also been willing to look at other forms of governance to help schools thrive. In the schools of the Omaha Consortium, enrollment is strong, programs are excellent and costs are more manageable. In rural communities such as Columbus and Cedar County, there has long been cooperation among parishes to support secondary and elementary Catholic schools. These and other alternative structures help provide the excellence, stability and affordability that continue to draw families to these communities of faith and learning.
We also are enjoying the benefits of an effort to reach out to Latino families to invite them to consider a Catholic school for their children. More of these families are being served all the time – a blessing for them and for the schools which their children attend. Schools in this archdiocese (and across the United States) were originally established to serve the children and grandchildren of immigrants. Catholic education enabled them to grow in their faith and develop into mature men and women who could make a positive contribution in the community.
Today some of our Catholic school students are from families who have attended our schools for several generations; some are the first generation to attend. Recently, I celebrated Mass at one of our high schools. Four students served the Mass. Their parents had been born in four different countries (including the United States). They love serving Mass, and they love their school. I am proud of all of them and grateful for the blessings that they both bring and receive in a Catholic school.
We owe a great debt of thanks to the administrators, faculty and staff of our schools. Parents enter into a partnership with them for the Catholic formation and education of their children. It is a big responsibility, and our school personnel prove that they are more than up to it every day. I say thanks in a special way to Patrick Slattery, Ed.D., our superintendent, and all who work with him in our Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Office. All 70 of our schools benefit from their leadership and support.
I have just completed a term as chair of the Committee on Catholic Education of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Over the past three years, I have become more aware of the strengths and the challenges in the apostolate of Catholic education in various parts of our country. I am more grateful than ever for the leadership and the dedication that provide so many excellent schools here. I am also convinced that there are a couple of means to build on our significant strengths.
First, as we implement our archdiocesan pastoral vision during the coming years, our Catholic schools will be asked to play a significant role. In particular, as we create a culture of discipleship, we want to ensure our students, along with their parents and teachers, are schooled in a personal encounter with the risen Jesus, an encounter that matures as they do. We want to then send them out equipped to witness their faith in Jesus with others. The strength of their faith and the richness of our culture depend on this equipping. These efforts will build, as I have said, on many significant strengths in our schools.
Second, we should no longer be satisfied that Nebraska remains one of a minority of states that does not offer support for school choice – or what is better called parental choice. God has given parents a serious responsibility to provide for the education of their children. And we should all want to help parents have access to the school where their children will flourish.
In states where tax credits or vouchers support parental choice, public funds do not go directly to non-public schools. Rather, parents are helped with the means to make the best choices for their families. Alarms that claim that state budgets will be adversely affected by these pro-family programs, or that public schools will be deprived of needed funds have proved to be false. Our excellent Catholic schools, which do so much to build up the common good, should be a viable option for any parents who choose them for their children.
During this Catholic Schools Week, I give thanks to God for so many of you who make sacrifices to support Catholic education. And I give thanks for the students and families whom we are privileged to serve.