This week I have been making the rounds of the Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Syracuse as we observe Catholic Schools Week 2022. Last Friday I had Mass with the students from Blessed Sacrament School in Syracuse. On Sunday I joined the parish community of Immaculate Conception in Fayetteville for Sunday Mass and the Opening Mass of Catholic Schools Week. On Monday I was in Utica for Mass and a visit to Notre Dame Jr./Sr. High School, followed by a stop at Notre Dame Elementary. On Tuesday I celebrated Mass at Seton Catholic Jr./Sr. High School in Binghamton. On Wednesday I found myself at Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School in Syracuse. On Thursday I offered Mass and visited St. Rose of Lima School in North Syracuse. On Friday I will end the week at Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High School in Syracuse. Next week I will finish off my visits on Monday with Mass for All Saints School in Endicott and with a visit to St. James School in Johnson City.

It seems nice to be able finally to make such visits. It is my goal this year to visit all the Catholic schools in the diocese and I think I am just five visits short of doing so. Luckily, I have until June!

The theme of this year’s Catholic Schools Week is “Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service.” When I think of the Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Syracuse these words certainly illustrate what I see in them. We owe a great debt not only to our parents who send their kids to our Catholic schools and for all community members who support Catholic education, but in a particular way to our school administrators, teachers and staff for their tireless and selfless service to the Church in seeking to teach as Jesus did. Also not to be forgotten are our dedicated Catholic Schools Office and its superintendent, Bill Crist, who continue to light the way for advancing the Church’s mission in the educational field here in Central New York.

In November 1972, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral message on Catholic education, “To Teach as Jesus Did.”  In the document, the bishops reflect on the faith, excellence and service that are the heart of Catholic Schools. The document stated, “Christian education is intended to ‘make a person’s faith become living, conscious and active, through the light of instruction’ (The Bishops’ Office in the Church, 14). The Catholic school is the unique setting within which this ideal can be realized in the lives of Catholic children and young people” (102).

Today, more than ever, we are relying on our educational institutions to form a future generation of leaders for our community, our society and our Church. This means that as Church we must be vigilant concerning what is being taught in our schools and the example being given during such formative years. The one thing we cannot do is to push our Catholic identity to the side and forget why Catholic schools were formed in the first place—so that the Way (of life) given to us by Jesus would continue to be the foundation of our lives and in turn contribute to the well-being of the human community.

Again in the aforementioned document the US bishops note: “This integration of religious truth and values with life distinguishes the Catholic school from other schools. This is a matter of crucial importance today in view of contemporary trends and pressures to compartmentalize life and learning and to isolate the religious dimension of existence from other areas of human life. A Catholic for whom religious commitment is the central, integrative reality of his or her life will find in the Catholic school a perception and valuation of the role of religion which matches one’s own” (105).

This is the challenge placed before our Catholic schools and their faculties today—not to allow the values and morals of the present day, which devalue human life and the role of religion, to compromise the mission of our Catholic schools as Gospel messengers. Jesus’ most famous image is that of the Good Shepherd who willingly searched out and even laid down his life for his sheep. Nevertheless, in doing so, he did not change his beliefs in order to keep the crowds. Most certainly, our mission as Church is to meet people where they are at, but it doesn’t stop there! Rather, we are invited to accompany them as Jesus did on the road to Emmaus and to share with them the testimony of Sacred Scripture, of God’s Holy Word.

Recently, I came across a chart produced by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) illustrating “a dozen reasons to choose Catholic Schools.” Let me conclude with them both in support of Catholic education and as an examination of conscience for our school communities:

1. We offer an education that combines Catholic faith and teachings with academic excellence.

2. We partner with parents in the faith formation of their children.

3. We set high standards for student achievement and help them succeed.

4. We provide a balanced academic curriculum that integrates faith, culture and life.

5. We use technology effectively to enhance education.

6. We instill in students the value of service to others.

7. We teach children respect of self and others.

8. We emphasize moral development and self-discipline.

9. We prepare students to be productive citizens and future leaders.

10. We have a 99 percent high school graduation rate; 85 percent of our graduates go to college.

11. We cultivate a faculty and staff of people who are dedicated, caring and effective.

12. We provide a safe and welcoming environment for all.

Happy Catholic Schools Week to all the Catholic schools of our Diocese. May the faith, excellence and service found in you continue to bear much fruit!

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