Since arriving eight years ago in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson has stressed the importance of Catholic education.
His support has been evident at the local level, but now, he's receiving national acclaim.
The National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) named Archbishop Carlson as a 2017 recipient of its prestigious Seton Award, given "annually to exemplary individuals whose support and service impacts Catholic education and the well-being of our nation's youth."
Archbishop Carlson will be among four recipients feted at the Seton Gala on Monday, Oct. 2, in Washington, D.C.
Beginning with the "Alive! In Christ" initiative not long after his arrival, through the annual Archbishop's Gala to benefit the Today & Tomorrow Educational Foundation and most recently with the beONE initiative and the Beyond Sunday capital campaign, Archbishop Carlson's commitment to and focus on Catholic education has been unmistakable.
The reasons for his commitment and support are simple.
"Good Catholic education will train the next generation of Catholic leaders, and, this is more of social justice perspective, we help people through education get out of poverty and open the doors for all kinds of opportunities," he said recently in his office at the Cardinal Rigali Center.
In "Alive! In Christ," the archbishop reminded the archdiocese about the importance of Catholic education, making it his top priority, followed by evangelization. The two work hand in hand.
"The first step was to make sure our Catholic identity is really strong," he said.
Education also is among the four pillars of beONE. For the future of Catholic education pillar, the archbishop approved the establishment of the Roman Catholic Foundation of Eastern Missouri, a 501(c)(3) public charity separate from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, in August 2013. Starting in June 2015 and now in its final stages, the RCF's Beyond Sunday capital campaign has eclipsed its $100 million goal and has raised more than $104 million with pledges still trickling in.
The campaign benefits both education and parishes: 60 percent of the pledges will support education in the way of scholarships for middle-class students and grants for innovative schools or programs; the remaining 40 percent goes back to parishes for use in facilities upgrades, maintenance, ministries and more.
Beyond Sunday has been a big boon for many middle-class families who earn too much money for financial aid but not enough to pay outright for Catholic school tuition.
"With Beyond Sunday and parishes that have scholarships available, we help not only the poor but the middle class, because today, they're the ones who are challenged," said Archbishop Carlson, himself a shining example for Catholic education.
"I've been in Catholic schools from kindergarten through graduate work; I've benefited," said the archbishop, who commended Catholic educators for showing him the way. "The Dominican Sisters, the Sisters of St. Joseph (of Carondelet), the Christian Brothers, diocesan priests and through graduate school with dedicated Catholic laity professors and clergy."
Clergy and religious once made up the majority of Catholic educators in the U.S. at parish schools, but a decline in vocations over the past half century prompted them to turn over the operation of many schools to the laity. However, in the archdiocese, clergy and religious are making a subtle comeback, filling key leadership roles at the elementary and high school levels and also leading education into the future. For instance, the English Tutoring Project is helping immigrant and refugee students in Catholic schools learn English language skills. Founded 19 years ago by the St. Louis Area Women Religious Collaborative Ministries, the program is paying dividends.
The NCEA, which had its annual convention and expo in St. Louis in April, has taken notice.
NCEA President/CEO Thomas W. Bumford lauded Archbishop Carlson's "tremendous leadership" in Catholic education in the archdiocese, now celebrating its 200th anniversary.
"You stand firmly in support of these wonderful educational institutions," he wrote to the archbishop. "We do hope that your brother bishops and priests will be inspired by your wonderful example."
>> NCEA Seton Awards
What: Awards dinner of the Seton Gala "honors exemplary individuals whose support and service impacts Catholic education and the well-being of our nation's youth"
When/Where: 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 2, at Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Who: Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, Archdiocese of St. Louis; Rita and Lamar Hunt, Jr., founders of the Loretto Companies in Kansas City, Mo. and Kan.; Joseph E. Weston, president of Weston Investment Company in Portland, Ore.; and the late Dennis J. Smith; a Catholic philanthropist from Manteno, Ill.; (President's Award) Sister Mary Angela Shaughnessy, SCN, of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles
Seton Scholar: In addition to the award, Archbishop Carlson selects a deserving student of a Catholic school in the archdiocese for a $2,000 scholarship in his honor. The recipient: Reginald "Reggie" Love, Trinity Catholic High School
Information: Visit www.stlouisreview.com/jBg