The windows are washed.  The floors are waxed.  It is time, once again, for the doors of the 101 Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to open and welcome students, families and staff to the 2022-23 school year.

The beginning of the school year is always a time for optimism and excitement.  It is a time to start anew, looking forward to the adventures and learning experiences the year will bring.  As we move into the new year, I would like to reflect on the essential ministry that Catholic schools are to the Church.

The Catholic Church recognizes and acknowledges the role of parents to be the primary educators of their children.  Our schools are proud to partner with and support parents in this process.  We share the common goals of deepening our children’s relationship with Jesus Christ and of getting all children to heaven.

Catholic schools are uniquely positioned to educate students in a culture of excellence emphasizing Catholic identity, academic success for all, and a safe and secure learning environment.  The Catholic culture of a school is evident in ways seen and in ways experienced.  Statues, artwork and other symbols of our faith should be easily observed.  Each of the 177 days school is in session, students participate in a variety of meaningful prayer opportunities, on both a personal level and as a community.  Daily religion classes ground students in the tenets of our faith.

Central to the culture of the school is the opportunity to actively participate in the sacraments, especially the celebration of Mass.  It is this active participation in the Mass, and partaking in the Eucharist when old enough, that makes Catholic schools unique among all other schools.  It is also what unites and defines our schools as Catholic across the archdiocese, the country and the world.  While we do not all attend Mass at the same time, we do attend in community.

The Mass is the focal point of the Catholic school experience.  We ask parents to make the Sunday Mass an essential family experience.

Catholic schools live a culture centered on the person of Jesus Christ and sustained by witnessing Gospel values.  As administrators, faculty and staff, we understand we teach by more than just our words.  Our actions define us, and our students look to us as role models.  We have a fundamental respect for the dignity of the human person — for each and every person created in the image and likeness of God — and welcome all who want to be in our schools.  At all times, we strive to respond with grace, mercy and forgiveness.

We hold all students accountable and have high expectations of success.  We understand students will make mistakes and poor choices.  With compassion and patience, we help students learn and grow from these experiences, laying the foundation for the Catholic leaders of tomorrow.

We understand all students have different strengths and areas of need.  Students learn in different ways and express their learning in a variety of ways.  We meet students where they are at and move them forward without excuse to achieve at their highest level.

The safety and security of our students and staff is paramount.  The topic is a point of emphasis at every meeting of school leaders.  We know that feeling safe is a basic need of all human beings and that we have an obligation to meet that need before we can effectively teach our curriculum.  The physical safety of a school and its students and staff is complex, but it begins with the fundamental understanding that the best way to keep everyone safe is to keep a potential bad actor out of the building.  Locked doors, and well-defined and communicated policies and procedures for visitors to the school during the day, are essential.

Equally important is that students feel emotionally safe.  We see this emerging as a greater need over the past few years, and our schools are committed to providing students with support and skills in this area as a pillar of our commitment to educating the whole child.

On behalf of the approximately 3,000 employees, and numerous volunteers, who work in the ministry of our schools, I would like to express our thanks and gratitude to the parents and families who entrust us with the formal Catholic education of their children.  We are committed to our partnership with you and ask for your continued visible support in our efforts to form the whole child into a young adult prepared to meet the challenges of our society.  We ask for your continued prayers.

I would also like to express our thanks and gratitude to the individual parishioners and the parishes of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.  Your prayers, your talents, your treasures are essential to the existence of our wonderful Catholic schools.  Thank you.

Bruce Varick