ListeckiIt is September and the school playgrounds are filled with students who have returned to their normal routine. The new school year brings with it a sense of excitement and expectation.

Catholic education has that special quality of conveying not only the goal of academic excellence but true spiritual formation, developing the whole person and instilling a responsibility to live the Gospel.

At this time of year, especially, I always give thanks to those sisters, priests and lay people of my home parish who made so many sacrifices in order to provide an environment — a school community — that instilled a vision through which I might fashion my life.

My own grammar school days, like those in almost all of our Catholic schools, began with Mass. This was an immediate reminder of the gratitude to those contributing to our education, the responsibility to do our best with our God-given ability, and to acknowledge the world in which we live is our preparation for the world yet to come.

As Archbishop of Milwaukee I have been invited to a number of opening school Masses to celebrate the achievement of many of the parish communities who have reached milestones in their history.

Last Saturday, I ventured to St. Mary, Menomonee Falls, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its school. The parish was established in 1905, but the school was erected in 1916. It is interesting the pastor felt the parish was not truly complete without the school.

The school rounded out the mission entrusted to their fledgling Catholic community. The great mandate given to us by Jesus was to preach, teach and baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The current pastor, Fr. John Burns,, shares the vision of the founding pastor and understands the importance of reaching out to introduce the community to the person of Jesus as the only real hope for our world.

Many alumni attended the Mass and offered their sentiments and thanks for the formation they received. They had nametags designating the year they graduated. It is a blessing to be part of a spirit that has spanned a century producing productive men and women, good citizens of our country and contributing members of our church.

This Friday, Sept 16, I will be with St. Mary’s Springs Academy at Holy Family Parish, Fond du Lac, celebrating all the great work accomplished in the renovation and new school building project that will ensure quality education will be provided to students for decades to come. (See related story, Page 8.)

The collaboration of the various parishes years ago is one of the important sources for the success St. Mary’s Springs Academy is experiencing today. They are a great example of how we can achieve something greater for our church and community if we are willing to sacrifice and share a vision.

Our parochial schools have served us well in the history of Catholic education but changing demographics and spiraling costs have placed an extreme burden on the local parish to sustain affordable and accessible quality Catholic education.

Parishes working together see the importance of a Catholic vision that preserves Catholic education, even though the campus may not necessarily be located on the local parish grounds. I have often said that every parish should have an attitude that “every Catholic parish has a Catholic school.”

Fr. Ryan Pruess is the dedicated pastor of Holy Family who sees his ministry in the school and support for St. Mary’s Springs as an essential part of his ministry. Like most pastors, the school is an evangelizing tool that develops future parishioners. It is an investment made today which will produce dividends in the future.

In one sense the archdiocese is the place you want to be in this era of Catholic education. Due to Kathleen Cepelka, superintendent of schools, her archdiocesan staff and a group of innovative and supportive business, education and promotional leaders, Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee is making creative strides to serve students in the most economically challenged areas.

On Aug. 31, I conducted a back-to-school event highlighting the Seton Catholic Schools initiative. It took place at St. Catherine Parish on 51st and Center streets in Milwaukee. The pastor, Fr. Larry Chapman, and principal, Michael Turner, along with teachers and volunteers, fashioned a most welcoming community that created an environment that any parent would desire their child to experience.

St. Catherine is part of the nine schools under the Seton Catholic Schools. The three individuals responsible for Seton are Don Drees, the COO (Chief Operating Officer), Cathy Cramer, the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) and William Hughes, the COA (Chief Academic Officer). Their assistance to the parish, oversight in the schools, development of teachers and assessment of properties provide a vision for excellence in education through a quality control.

Kris Rappé is the chairperson of the Seton Commission which assesses the projected resources and challenges necessary for the success of the program.

This could be a game changer for Catholic education. “The Seton Initiative” will contribute to the stability of the urban community, development of the young students, teacher formation, and the grounding of the school in faith which serves the mission of the church.

If the opening “back-to-school” event is any indication of the potential of Seton, the spirit and enthusiasm displayed alone signals success.

As archbishop I am proud of the primary and secondary schools which comprise the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. I am grateful to the administrators and teachers, priests, sisters and students that form our school communities. But most of all I am grateful to you, the faithful in our pews, who contribute so generously to the wellbeing of Catholic education. I pray for a good school year.