The 3-year-old girl, sitting on my daughter’s lap in Quito, Ecuador, waved and clapped her hands enthusiastically, singing loudly along with the school choir, led by guitarist Madre Cindy, a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

She confidently responded in Spanish to all of the prayers at Mass, as did the couple hundred other children gathered for the school Mass at site one of the Working Boys’ Center, in downtown Quito, a couple weeks ago. This little girl, who didn’t even reach my waist, not only knew the words to the songs, but had committed to memory all of the prayers of the Mass!

My 16-year-old daughter, Chiana, and I spent a week in Quito in mid-January on a “spiritual journey” offered by the Working Boys’ Center: A Family of Families. Watch for more on that amazing experience in our next issue of Catholic Herald Family.

I thought of the celebratory atmosphere at the school Mass, celebrated by Jesuit Fr. John Halligan, and the participants’ devotion to the Catholic faith as we prepared our annual Catholic Schools Week section, focusing on the successes of Catholic education.Chiana Román, 16, a sophomore at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School, Milwaukee, holds 3-year-old Catherine Sevilla, on her lap during an all-school Mass on Friday, Jan. 18 at Center One of the Working Boys' Center in Quito, Ecuador. (Catholic Herald photo by Maryangela Layman Roman)

There, in Quito, we saw Catholic education in action, as the Working Boys’ Center provides a Catholic education to some 400 families. In its 48 years of operation, the center has educated 6,000 families or about 30,000 individuals.

As important as the life skills taught at the center is its emphasis on faith formation and its immersion in the Catholic faith. Catholicism is evident everywhere, from the regular school Masses, to the crosses on the walls, to the rosaries and religious articles the students were making.

This educational environment, surrounded by actions and symbols of our faith, is repeated in 6,841 Catholic schools across the United States, and locally in the 99 Catholic elementary and 14 high schools in our Milwaukee Archdiocese.

Society surely benefits from the fact that more than 2 million students are enrolled in Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the United States. In our archdiocese, there are about 33,000 students who are benefitting from a Catholic education, this year alone.

Catholic Schools Week is a time to celebrate the successes of an educational approach that allows God to exist in our classrooms.

Along with academic ventures, students learn about faith and morals, and will hopefully make choices based on the values that are instilled in the Catholic school environment.

Whether in Ecuador or in Milwaukee, Catholic schools continue their mission of educating the whole person by teaching, modeling and instilling the teachings of the Gospel. As members of the Catholic Church, that is something for all of us to celebrate! Whether you attended a Catholic school or are currently a parent or a grandparent of a Catholic school student or not, the success of our Catholic schools in teaching and evangelizing today’s youth leads to a better educated, more compassionate and clearly faith-filled society.

In this issue of Catholic Herald Family, you’ll find stories about some of the Catholic schools in our archdiocese. For example, read about Notre Dame Middle School. In its 16th year of operation, this all girls’ middle school, founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, serves at-risk young Hispanic women on the city’s south side. While principal Sr. Jean Ellman, a School Sister of Notre Dame, doesn’t put much credence in standardized testing, you won’t believe how the school’s scores compare to others. They are nearly off the charts! Read about the school’s success.

How about Brookfield’s St. John Vianney, which has employed a unique marketing program, mid-year? The school has an innovative approach, inviting families to make a switch right away. Read about how it’s been received.

Catholic education is a financial sacrifice for any family, but you won’t want to miss the story of Maria Gonzalez Nuñez, a single mother of four, who put each of her children through Catholic elementary and high school, even going back to school herself to further her education and her earning capabilities. Read her inspirational story and why she’s committed to Catholic education for her children.

Our annual salute to Catholic schools is not intended to slight the good work being done in our nation’s public schools, as we know many Catholic families choose public education for their children, and many Catholics teach in public schools.

Rather, it is a time to celebrate the success of our Catholic school system which continues to produce faith-filled, highly educated graduates, who will have a lasting impact on the church and society.