For almost 180 years, Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee have endeavored, with enormous sacrifice on the part of many, to faithfully execute their responsibility to participate in the evangelizing mission of the Church, in spite of changing circumstances, demographics and societal challenges. Multiple generations of pastors, administrators, teachers and staff members have viewed their commitment to Catholic education — at all levels — as an outgrowth of their personal and communal call to carrying out Christ’s directive to “go and make disciples of all” through their ministry in Catholic schools.

We’re now ready to re-open our schools in the third year of a pandemic that has almost literally consumed our lives. For the past 18 months, every plan, protocol, communication and celebration has somehow had the uncertainties of COVID-19 at its base and in its background. Shortly after the first emergency COVID-19 precautions were implemented in spring of 2020, I remember thinking — quite naively — that “this would all be over soon” and that our schools would be able to resume operations normally in fall. The hard reality, of course, was that the pandemic’s grip grew only tighter as the months wore on, and most Catholic school leaders and teachers had little, if any, summer vacation last year, as they prepared to open their schools with the protection of students and personal attention to their needs as priorities when the summer ended.

The COVID-19 school year of 2020-21 in the Catholic schools of our archdiocese was filled with stories of generosity, perseverance and courage. From the development of detailed safety plans, to providing meals and home visits to students’ families, to hybrid teaching that tested the stamina of even the most seasoned educators — our leaders, teachers and staff poured out their professional and personal “lifeblood” for those in their care.

Now, most of these same Catholic school educators are gearing up for another school year heavily impacted by pandemic uncertainties and precautions. They’re making tough decisions on a daily basis regarding the learning climate in their schools that challenge them to sort through the information that comes to them through every news update and every voice of concern. In the end, their decisions reflect the advice of professionals, their commitment to appropriately and effectively meet local needs, and their own deep desire, above all, to be faithful to their responsibility as “shepherds of God’s flock that is under [their] care.” (1 Peter 5:2)

Built on the Rock who is Christ, our Catholic schools have withstood countless forms of turmoil and distress over the years. Having served as a Catholic school educator in many different capacities for more than 50 years, I’ve experienced a fair number of those challenges firsthand. But, I’ve never witnessed anything like the dedication, creativity and steadfast commitment of these current Catholic school leaders, teachers and staff members in doing what they believe is best for their students and their families, often in the face of internal and external adversities.

As they open their doors and their hearts to students once again, these quiet heroes are serving our schools, our communities and our Church in ways that deserve our deepest thanks and praise.

Dr. Kathleen Cepelka