Happy Catholic Schools Week! This is the week that Catholic schools across the United States celebrate the history and ongoing value that these institutions provide to students and families.
All of us who are blessed to work in Catholic schools are proud of what they offer to the wider community and celebrate the tremendous role they have played throughout American and California history.
I was at the University of Notre Dame last week for a conference on Catholic schools convened by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and I had the opportunity to interact with individuals from all over the nation. As you may know, Catholic schools have faced a number of struggles over the past few decades and those struggles have resulted in declines in enrollment and resulting school closures.
But while the struggles and challenges have been significant, I was struck by the level of optimism for the future that was exhibited by so many at the conference. The fact that there are so many high-quality individuals who are invested in exploring innovative solutions to the challenges Catholic schools face provides great hope for the future.
It was fitting that the conference was held at the University of Notre Dame because back in December of 2006 they released a document called “Making God Known, Loved and Served” that stimulated a renewed focus on Catholic schools. At the conclusion of the report the authors posed three critical questions about Catholic schools in the United States:
“Will it be said of our generation that we presided over the demise of the most effective and important resource for evangelization in the history of the Church in the United States? Will it be said of our generation that we lacked the resolve to preserve national treasures built upon the sacrifice of untold millions? Will it be said of our generation that we abandoned these powerful instruments of justice that provide educational opportunity and hope for families otherwise trapped in poverty?”
These are powerful questions that compel all Catholics to reflect upon the history and value of these vital educational institutions, not just for the Church, but for American society as well. And the fact is, the struggles that Catholic schools have faced over that past number of years could lead one to answer the questions with a pessimistic response.
But the authors have faith. They respond to all three questions, “Surely not. Instead, when the story of Catholic schools is written, historians will look back on our age and marvel that against great odds, we changed the ending.”
In the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops’ document “To Be a Christian Steward,” the description of stewardship is to “receive God’s gifts gratefully, cultivate them responsibly, share them lovingly in justice with others, and return them with increase to the Lord.”
At the Department of Catholic Schools, and at Catholic schools throughout the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, we are striving hard to “change the ending” and we accept the great obligation as stewards of these valuable resources to ensure that we care for them and return them with increase to the Lord when our work is completed. It will then be the task of a future generation to care and grow them further.
We have a natural inclination as human beings to look back nostalgically to the past and idealize what came before us. Those of us blessed to work in Catholic schools stand on the shoulders of giants who built and sustained Catholic schools for generations of families.
But our generation today, those working in Catholic schools, as well as the clergy and lay faithful parishioners, must realize that God has faith in the work of our hands. We are the ones he entrusts to sustain and build upon the rich past so that Catholic schools are sustained for future generations.
I invite you to celebrate Catholic schools, not just during this special week, but all throughout the year. Rejoice in the wonder and formation they provide to students and the faith, and the support they provide to families. Together we can all “change the ending” and ensure they remain vibrant for decades to come.
Kevin Baxter, Ed.D., is the superintendent for Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Learn more at www.lacatholicschools.org.