I had the joy to mark the start of Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 29-Feb. 4) by celebrating Mass for the 100th anniversary of Immaculate Heart of Mary School in East Hollywood.

It is a reminder of the enduring legacy of our education ministry here in Los Angeles. Founded by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and later run for many years by the Religious Sisters of Charity, the school is thriving still today.

In addition to offering first-rate academics and good religious formation, the school has a world class children’s choir that has performed at Carnegie Hall and for Pope Francis.

And this is just one of our schools!

We run the largest Catholic school system in the nation, with 254 schools serving roughly 67,400 students. And I am happy to report that our enrollment numbers are up again this year. Over the past two years, enrollments are up more than 4 percent. 

More importantly, our students’ academic performance continues to be excellent, even with the challenges in recent years from the pandemic.

Our schools are a light of hope and we are changing lives and lifting people up every day. About 70% of our students come from low-income families. 

Education continues to be the most important single factor in helping people to rise in our society, opening up economic opportunities, and offering people a way out of poverty.

So many of our students go on to become the first in their families to attend and graduate from college. Many return home to become leaders in their communities.

I have such great admiration for our principals, faculty, and families, and for all the many benefactors and sponsoring religious orders who make this education possible.

Our Catholic Education Foundation plays a vital role. Last year, the foundation provided $16 million in tuition assistance to more than 12,000 students in 200 schools. 

But there are thousands more families waiting to send their children to Catholic schools, if they could just afford the tuition. My dream continues to be to make a Catholic education possible for every child.

Catholic education is a beautiful gift.

Because what students learn in Catholic schools is more than reading and writing, science and math. Those subjects are all important, and we strive to give every student an excellent and well-rounded education. 

But Catholic education is “Catholic.” That means it is part of the mission that Jesus gave to his Church 2,000 years ago.

We remember that before he ascended to heaven, Jesus commanded his disciples to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, and to make disciples of all nations. He also commanded that we teach people to observe all that he commanded.

Jesus sent his Church, not just to preach but also to teach. 

When we read the Gospels, we read over and over again about how Jesus was “teaching” — in the synagogues, in the streets, in the homes of the people. The disciples called Jesus their “teacher.”

And through our Catholic schools, Jesus is still teaching.

Our Catholic faith is more than feelings and sentiments. Our faith has a content. It has truth. And that truth has a name: Jesus.

The deepest aim of Catholic education is to help our young people to know Jesus. Because when we know Jesus, we meet the living God.

When we meet Jesus, we find the answers to the questions that are born in our hearts: Who am I? Where did I come from, and where am I going? What should I be living for? What is the good life and why should I even want to be a good person? What is it that God wants from me? What path should I follow to find happiness?  

Catholic education starts with Jesus and the truth he reveals in his Gospel. Jesus does not teach us science or grammar. He does not teach us how to specialize in a certain profession or how to use technology.

What Jesus teaches is more fundamental. He shows us that the world has an order, that the world has a purpose and a design. And Jesus shows us that you and I are made for greater things, that we are all made for love and holiness and glory.

Jesus teaches us that God has the plan for our lives, that every one of us is a child of God, made to love and serve him and to serve our brothers and sisters in love. 

When we know that, we can count ourselves truly educated.

Pray for me and I will pray for you.

And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to keep our young people always close to Jesus so that he can teach them the way to happiness and to heaven.