The mission and foundation of Catholic education are directly related to evangelization, the head of the National Catholic Educational Association said in anticipation of Catholic Schools Week, being celebrated Jan. 26 to Feb. 1.
This week’s issue of the St. Louis Review features stories showcasing what makes Catholic schools stand out. Students who attend Catholic schools receive a challenging, high-quality academic experience in a supportive environment, with an emphasis on Catholic values and college preparation. The self-discipline developed by students, along with learning to accept responsibility and to respect others, help create excellent life-long learners.
Thomas Burnford, president and CEO of the NCEA, rightly said in a Catholic News Service article that Catholic schools are obligated to evangelize simply because that is the core and mission of the Catholic Church.
“The apostles told the good news of Jesus Christ, and Catholic schools are an essential and integral ministry of the Catholic Church,” he said.
In Catholic elementary schools of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, 14 % of students are nonCatholic; 22% of Catholic high school students are non-Catholic. The numbers are similar nationally. The mission of Catholic education is the same for Catholic and non-Catholic students, Burnford explained.
Evangelization is in schools because students are presented with a Catholic worldview that reveals the reality of God and the Gospel through the curriculum, he said.
Mary Pat Donoghue, executive director of the Secretariat of Catholic Education at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, expressed a similar viewpoint regarding evangelization efforts within Catholic schools. Donoghue, speaking to Catholic News Service, said because formation in a Catholic school is integral, students are not solely taught religious doctrine in a religion course.
“What we seek to do is bring forward the Church’s intellectual tradition and form their minds in all of the content and areas that they study. This is an excellent tool of evangelization because it exposes kids not just to Catholic practices, regarding prayer and liturgy, but also to a Catholic understanding of reality.”
Donoghue is hopeful that Catholic schools will continue to fulfill their mission of bringing children and young adults into a relationship with Christ.
That relationship with Christ is the key element.
Research by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University in a study completed in 2014 found a strong correlation between Catholic education and Mass attendance among millennials, with Catholic-educated young adults seven times more likely to attend Sunday Mass than peers who went to public schools.
Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Louis enroll more than 30,000 students. It is the 41st largest diocese and has the seventh-most children in Catholic schools. The students become grounded, faith-filled individuals committed to service and justice.
Let’s celebrate that and continue to support our Catholic schools.