.- Illinois held its first Summit for Catholic School Education last week, drawing nearly 300 educators and five bishops.
The one-day event, held Feb. 26 in Bloomington, celebrated the strengths of local Catholic education and addressed the challenges facing Catholic schools.
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago called on Catholics to keep pressure on the government to do more to support parents who choose Catholic education. He and others outlined steps that can be taken within the Church to ensure a bright future for the Catholic school system, which he called unique and vital to the Church’s future, reported the Catholic Post.
“What we share is a concern for how we will finance private education, a concern for meeting the new demands of the digital age, and a concern for the passing on of our faith to our young people,” said Fr. Michael Garanzini, SJ, president of Loyola University Chicago, in a keynote presentation.
The summit zeroed in on three issues in the U.S. bishops’ 2005 pastoral letter on Catholic schools: availability, accessibility and affordability. Fr. Garanzini proposed two more issues: academic credibility and accountability.
Part of the academic credibility, he said, is reporting how Catholic schools are preparing young people to engage the diversity and materialism seen in today’s culture, and to challenge the “tendency toward isolation” spawned by the digital age.
The bishops took part in a panel discussion in response to concerns that surfaced at the assembly, most notably financing, accessibility, marketing, and preserving schools’ Catholic identity.
Catholic schools must be “places of prayer and hope” that inspire “martyrs” for the truths of the faith, said Cardinal George.
In the last decade, the number of Catholic elementary schools in the state has dropped from 513 to 437, and the total number of students has fallen from 215,346 to 170,165. There are six fewer Catholic high schools than in 1997.
“What we need to do is truly convince people through results our schools are worth supporting on a wide basis,” said Bishop Peter Sartain of Joliet. Alumni of Catholic schools have a special role in that task, he said.
“Inspired by the mission of Christ, Catholic schools are an irreplaceable good,” said Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria during his homily at the summit’s Mass. Not only do the schools educate and change minds, he said, but “they can and they should change the world.”
He urged schools not to abandon their Catholic identity for “all the simplifications of our radically degraded culture.”
“Parochial schools that are no longer intentionally Catholic, clear in their mission, Christ-centered, morally and academically challenging, doctrinally sound, socially generous and spiritually sacral—such schools are really merely private schools, with no compelling reason to continue to exist,” he said in his homily.