By William Crist | Superintendent of Catholic Schools
What a difference a year makes. When we recall our experience of Catholic Schools Week a year ago, we have fond memories of the normalcy of a school setting. Traditions and practices were being carried out as they had been when the first celebration of our Catholic schools nationwide was declared 47 years ago. Yet, as we continue our journey within our schools today and eagerly plan and anticipate our celebration and events of this Catholic Schools Week 2021, we display an exuberance and passion that comes from our faith. We believe that God is continually watching over us and guiding our directions that harvest success, joy, peace, and happiness — all this when we simply listen to His call and follow His guidance.
Each of our 22 schools in the Diocese of Syracuse join nearly 6,000 Catholic schools around the country to commemorate the longstanding tradition of the excellence of Catholic school education and dedication to the growth of the whole person — mind, body, and spirit. As Father Christopher Celentano, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish and School in North Syracuse, stated, “It’s always Catholic Schools Week at St. Rose.”
Interim President of the National Catholic Education Association Kathy Mears noted, “Celebrating Catholic Schools Week this year is very important. The challenges of the last nine months have revealed the resilience of as many as 80 percent of our schools offering in-person instruction, as well as the fragility of others for whom the financial strain has been too great. However, we always are grateful to the Catholic school educators committed to academic excellence and forming good citizens on Earth and saints in Heaven. Every day they model a remarkable ministry for their students and for each other.”
In the Diocese of Syracuse, we have been challenged greatly over the past months. Last March, our schools were rushed into remote instruction. This fall, we went to great lengths to return to in-person, five-day-a-week instruction while adhering to the many health restrictions. In hard times, Catholics shine, including Catholic educators!
I am awed by and grateful for the unceasing efforts of our school communities — administrators, pastors, teachers, support staff, parents, and students — to continue our mission since our last Catholic Schools Week. As a diocese, our clergy and religious also have been confronted with the great burdens of COVID and, during this turmoil, have been steadfast in shepherding the flock while keeping watch.
Despite the unprecedented challenges we face today, let us not lose focus on what is most important in Catholic education: Catholic educators prepare students for this life and for the life to come. History records what people do, rather than what they are.
We invite you to see the many themes that will be presented this week — although the same are present in our schools every day and week. Themes include Catholic school families, educators, religious, parishes, and the nation. Reflecting those themes, projects and events will include celebrating our faith with Mass (virtually and in person; Bishop Douglas J. Lucia will celebrate a special Catholic Schools Week Mass, streamed live at youtube.com/syrdio, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Feb. 4 at 12 p.m.); celebrating the community by holding a prayer service that includes bringing in a can of soup and food to supply the parish pantry; celebrating academic excellence by inviting guests to read to a class (virtually, of course!); hosting a virtual open house for existing and new families; celebrating vocations with presentations on career awareness and vocations to the priesthood and religious life; and celebrating family with creative online/virtual games such as Scrabble, Bingo, and Words with Friends, just to name a few.
In addition to the many activities that students and families are participating in this week, we would be remiss in not directing families to school websites for updates, calendars, and upcoming events for the remainder of the school year. Re-enrollment and new enrollment opportunities are being rolled out in earnest as we set plans in place for the 2021-22 school year. Find links to all our schools’ websites at syrdio.org.
For centuries, Catholic schools have provided a well-rounded education to disadvantaged families, new arrivals to America, and all who seek a seat in Catholic schools. Catholic schools meet families of all backgrounds while maintaining Catholic principles and teaching in a spirit of charity. We are making amazing steps to provide that choice through many grants and foundations including the Yeazel Fund, the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, the Bison Scholarship Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, the HOPE Appeal, the Scuderi and McDevitt families and, of course, our own diocesan parishes. All of these charitable entities, and more, provide students and families with a real choice in Catholic school education.
This week, we intentionally pause to celebrate our Catholic schools. In his Jan. 20 General Audience, Pope Francis spoke about Christian unity. He stated, “Thanks be to God, there have been many steps forward, but we need to persevere in love and in prayer, without lacking trust nor tiring. It is a path that the Holy Spirit gave rise to in the Church, in Christians and in us all, from which there is no turning back. Ever onward!”
We share with you our schools’ unique charism, strong academic achievements, and evangelizing faith-based culture. May this time be one that strengthens our mission and invites more families to consider the gift of Catholic education. This is a considerable responsibility. But it is a righteous one. Ever onward!