“School days, school days, dear old golden rule days,” so the song goes. If you stop at a J.C. Penney, Target, Wal-Mart or Kmart, there are all types of displays for back to school. I enjoyed school. Like most students, I viewed August-September as a dreaded reminder that vacation was almost over. It meant the end of summer. It meant a new set of schedules. It meant homework, papers and presentations. I guess, in the end, back to school was a gentle hint that we were preparing to be part of the larger, productive society filled with eight-hour workdays.
Because of the amount of time spent in school, the choice of a school is critical for the family. In fact, Catholic parents have an obligation to educate their children. The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education states: “Parents have the primary and inalienable duty of educating their children, and must enjoy true freedom in choosing schools.”
I am a product of Catholic schools. I am aware that my parents sacrificed in order to provide Catholic education. I know that I received a quality education, but even more importantly, I received a worldview based in faith.
My grammar school class days started with prayer. Mass was celebrated occasionally and a priest came for visits to the classroom. We learned of those great men and women called saints, who fashioned the world around us, dedicated to Jesus Christ. We were encouraged to give back to the community by helping others through canned goods and clothing drives which were a normal part of our school experiences.
Catholic schools have experienced difficult times in recent years. However, what I experienced in Catholic grammar school continues to be experienced by today’s Catholic school students. The pride they have in their Catholic education is uniquely connected to their faith.
Parochial schools or parish-based schools have felt the stress of changing demographics, lower student population and spiraling costs, forcing us to evaluate the current state of Catholic education and to determine how best to serve the Catholic student population while at the same time supporting the parish in maintaining reasonable budgets.
This is a creative time for Catholic education. We need to be innovative. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is so blessed to have Dr. Kathleen Cepelka as our superintendent and an archdiocesan school staff whose expertise, commitment and dedication to Catholic education is well known to everyone.
They are supported by a Catholic Schools Commission under the leadership of John Stollenwerk. They care about our children and understand the importance of Catholic education for success in their young lives, but they also care for our church as we fulfill the mandate of Jesus to proclaim the “Good News.”
At this time, we need to have a regional view of Catholic education, promoting collaboration among parishes to secure Catholic education not only for today, but for 10 and even 20 years into the future.
There are some very good public schools and certainly our state needs public education. But public education is limited. If we, as Americans, value freedom then it should be obvious that a Catholic school enjoys more freedom than its public counterpart because there one can pray, one can speak of God, one can learn about religion. All of those are prohibited in a public school.
In the parish, the beginning of school is part of the new season. I would ask that parents of school children take an active part in the education of their children. First and foremost, take your children to church on Sunday. Be a witness to your children in the manner in which you live your life. Part of that is public worship.
Second, contribute to the support of your parish. Tuition does not cover the cost of Catholic education. It is imperative that we support our parishes that subsidize the education of our children.
Lastly, donate some time to the school, be involved and offer to assist a teacher, the librarian, work on a committee or provide muscle for a fundraiser. The spirit of the school community is contagious. It brings people together and establishes a sense of belonging often sought after in our shifting environment.
This is precious time for all of us, but especially for our children. I remember a statement made by one of my friends when they had their first child. My job, he said, is to do my best to help my child get to heaven. He’s right. In the end, success is not measured by how much we make, or the position we occupy, but rather in how well we follow God’s will.
I know my Catholic education made a difference in my life. I ask that all our Catholic families consider making a difference for your children by choosing Catholic education so they may be formed by one more important factor in helping them choose to do God’s will.