Catholic school students from Immaculate Conception and neighboring inner-city schools got a glimpse of local history and a promising vision of the future from prominent Catholic educators as they attended a Sept. 14 special screening of “The Pope Visits Los Angeles,” commemorating Pope John Paul II’s historic 1987 visit. Sponsored by the archdiocese, the Catholic Education Foundation and Immaculate Conception — where the pope visited a classroom and appeared at an outdoor school assembly — the event held at L.A. Live/Regal Cinemas began with a film clip documenting the papal visit followed by a panel discussion on the opportunities provided by a Catholic education.Dr. Kevin Baxter, archdiocesan superintendent of elementary schools who opened the panel presentation, said that the promise of Catholic education spoken of 25 years ago by Pope John Paul at Immaculate Conception School is thriving today.“That promise is still alive,” at Catholic schools in the archdiocese, stated Baxter. Catholic schools in the urban core, he added, help educate economically disadvantaged students and “really give them the promise that life has to offer for them and for their families — that’s still very much true today and still exists in many, many of our schools.”Noting that the Catholic Education Foundation is also celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Anthony Sciacca, vice president of development, said that CEF’s vision going forward is to find a way to provide assistance to everyone in the archdiocese who would like to access a Catholic education.Established by Cardinal Roger Mahony as a charitable trust in 1987, CEF has awarded 126,000 tuition assistance awards totaling over $130 million. Among CEF students receiving assistance, 98.2 percent graduate from high school and 98 percent of the graduates go on to two- and four-year colleges.When asked by an Immaculate Conception student in the post-panel question and answer session where CEF gets its funding, Sciacca replied: “The unique thing about the tuition awards that we present students is that most of that money comes from people who do not know you but believe in you and believe in the value of Catholic education.”“We really need to explore creative ways to make our schools accessible,” said Sylvia Armas-Abad, field consultant in L.A. for University of Notre Dame’s Catholic School Advantage Campaign. Acknowledging the large Spanish-speaking population in L.A.’s urban core, she noted the importance of educating Latino families at the grass roots level about the value and opportunities that Catholic schools will bring to their children’s lives.Addressing the importance of Catholic identity in schools, Carmelite Father Thomas Batsis, executive director of Loyola Marymount University’s Center for Catholic Education, emphasized that Catholic schools were founded as places where the Catholic faith could be celebrated in addition to being institutions of academic excellence.“One of the things we have the opportunity to do each day in our Catholic schools is educate the whole person,” noted Father Batsis. “We don’t have to leave religion at the door of the school, but, rather, we can incorporate our faith experience into the entire day…. We want to have academic excellence in all of our schools, but also we want to have our Catholic excellence as well [as] the core of our parochial education.”Dr. Ann McElaney-Johnson, president of Mount St. Mary’s College, said an important part of the Mount’s mission is to prepare students to be leaders and to serve in the communities in which they live. “Service is such an important part of our empowering students, because we want the women who graduate from Mount St. Mary’s College not only to be exceptional in whatever career they choose and to be fully prepared with the expertise they will need, but we want them also to understand that they are responsible to the communities in which they live and work and that they have an obligation to serve the people in the community,” said McElaney-Johnson.Panel moderator Robert Santos, Immaculate Conception seventh grade teacher who was a fifth grader during the pope’s visit, said the papal visit remains an indelible memory.“It was a day I’ll never forget,” said Santos, who remembers being a little nervous and scared “but also feeling blessed that we had this special opportunity. We could feel the importance of it in our own hearts.”“When I think of Sept. 16, 1987, the first image that comes to my mind is of the children just screaming and so excited to meet the Holy Father,” said Mary Ann Murphy, Immaculate Conception principal since 1987. “They were totally caught up in the moment, although I’m sure that some of them were too young at the time to realize that history was in the making and that a saint was walking among us.”Carol Rowe, representative from the Specialty Family Foundation, which supports the Catholic Schools Consortium that provides funding for directors of marketing development at several inner-city Catholic schools, said the students watching the film of the papal visit were very respectful and reverential. “I was very pleasantly surprised how it was focused on the children,” said Rowe. “This was a beautiful celebration for them.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0921/forum/{/gallery}