It might be apocryphal, but I have heard more than once that the great Notre Dame football coach, Lou Holtz, noted that Catholic high schools will always be successful at team sports for three reasons: they learn to do more with less; they value community and team over the individual; and they have a bond among themselves that is deeper than just a place to turn in your homework.  

Whether it was Coach Holtz who said this, or someone else, it makes a very good point. More importantly, it makes a point that applies not just to fielding great sports teams, but to the fullness of Catholic education.

For much the same reasoning, Catholic schools excel in the classroom, in serving the community, and in transforming the world.

This Saturday will be the third annual Soles for Catholic Education walk along the beautiful Menomonee River Parkway in Wauwatosa.

Last year there were more than 9,000 participants. This year, it could exceed 10,000. When Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki inaugurated the walk in 2013, he laid out four goals:

  • to raise awareness about the many benefits of Catholic education
  • to have fun celebrating the Catholic faith
  • to build community by bringing together our 202 parishes and 114 Catholic schools
  • to raise money to ensure Catholic education remains affordable and accessible

With the exception of kindergarten and a year in college before I entered seminary, I am blessed to be a product of Catholic schools at every stage of my educational life. Seven years ago, I was further blessed by the opportunity to return to my alma mater, Catholic Memorial High School of Waukesha, as school president.

Such is a blessing not just about coming home to serve, but a blessing shared by every Catholic educator and Catholic school supporter which flows from educating and preparing young people to reach their God-given potential and to become leaders who serve the church and the world.

To vigorously support Catholic education is not something meant to put down the many fine government-run schools in our region, nor does it seek to impress guilt upon families who cannot avail themselves of a Catholic school. But, there is a value in pointing out the unique power and gift of school communities being extended families based in prayer and faith.

Furthermore, there is something unique about even being able to frame our educational mission around terms like “God-given” potential and “servant-leadership.”

These things, which set Catholic schools apart, are themselves assets not only to students and families, but also to parishes, the wider church, communities and the world.

In his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis correctly stated that “Catholic schools, which always strive to join their work of education with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel, are a most valuable resource for the evangelization of culture” (#134.  Nov. 24, 2013).

Our Catholic schools are one of the greatest tools the church has to effectively engage and eventually transform the secular world and its secular culture.  

The schools of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee have an immediate goal of forming young, faithful Catholics who, rooted in Christ in all aspects of their lives, are happy, healthy and holy. Catholic schools have a wider goal of being leaven which stabilizes troubled communities, gives identity to small communities, and offers Spirit-filled conscience to flourishing communities.

Our Catholic schools have a lofty goal of transforming nations and the world.

Of these goals, there are critics on all sides. Secularists might deride science classes which respect that God is our creator, or art and literature classes which propose that Christ-like human dignity should be a criterion of appeal instead of the ogling of human failings.

On the other hand, some of good will want our schools to withdraw from engagement with our world with all its sins and impurities.

It was once asserted to me that the only goal of Catholic schools should be to get our kids into heaven. As true as that is, I responded, I think SS. Paul, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and others would agree, that in the time we have here on earth, we should also strive to get a few into Harvard to be leaven there as well.

I am very much looking forward to this Saturday, seeing thousands of faith-filled Catholics turning out in support of Catholic schools. The sheer magnitude of the turnout goes a long way to serve the goals for the walk set forth by Archbishop Listecki.

But for those of us who know, there is an even deeper realization to be found – in a world that needs them so much, every Catholic school, in fact every Catholic school student, is a herald of hope!