As a pastor on the Eastside and Riverwest, whose school, Catholic East, is held in high esteem and investment, I would like to offer some reflections on not only the need to sustain our schools, but to energize and empower them to growth and advancement in the mission of our church.
In some quarters, the “Catholic school” is seen as a bit suspect – declining numbers and increasing costs, a struggle to pastors and parish councils as they, in due diligence, seek a balanced budget. A great investment in principle, but practically a burden at best and a headache at worst? Is it the best stewardship of our resources to have schools?
I have faced all the questions as a pastor, and the answers, perplexingly elusive, come into clear focus when I visit the classroom. As any good school should, we need to offer a 21st century approach to the academics, clear, precise and dynamic to equip our students with the tools needed to be happy, productive and contributing members of our great republic.
However, a visit to a Catholic school classroom reveals more! The precious symbols of our great tradition, from the crucifix on the wall to artwork portraying the life and mission of our Savior; from the songs that make even the most cynical heart melt at Christmas to students learning about the church’s great body of social teaching and a pattern of behavior rooted in our tradition’s deepest respect and charity for all; from the school Mass, which, if done with care and effort, prepares our students to first of all fall more in love with the Eucharist, and then respond to the challenge to “be” that Eucharist for each other, their families and parishes, their world; to Valentine cards made for and delivered to a nursing home when our senior citizens and youth realize they are part of the same family; from a love of learning and an understanding that education is more than facts, but has as its goal the wisdom Sirach so aptly describes at the beginning of this column, to the students who, with respect and enthusiasm, are guided by good and loving teachers who sometimes make such a sacrifice to respond to the vocation of the Catholic formation of our students….
The list could go on, but you get the point.
Catholic schools are a great investment and dare I say a great product to offer our parishioners and our society at large. The goal is wisdom; the means is faith in the person of Jesus.
Since the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1862, every Catholic parish is challenged to have or to be part of a school. Our history is great, and we would be remiss to forget the magnificent contribution that our religious sisters and brothers accomplished. With grateful hearts we must always remember them. And we must remember those who give and have given so freely of their time, talent and financial resources to keep the mission of Catholic schools alive.
To keep Catholic schools as part of our mission and to truly vision and bring into existence the formation of our youth in the image of Christ are mighty and somewhat daunting goals. But with the collaborative efforts and the spirit of cooperation which is already happening, great things will continue to happen. Attitude is everything. We must keep trying with faith, hope and love.
Please pray for our Catholic school system; pray for our principals and teachers and staffs; pray for our students and their families and parishes. We truly can accomplish this year’s theme: A+ For America. Above all, live that great instruction the good Sisters always gave us: All for the greater honor and glory of God!
(Fr. Kitzke is a team member of the in solidum team at Three Holy Women and team member at Old St. Mary, Our Lady of Divine Providence and SS. Peter and Paul parishes, Milwaukee.)