From the Bishops Catholic Schools

As the new school year begins, I thank God for our Catholic schools. Through the centuries, the Catholic Church has valued education. The first universities of Europe were established by the Catholic Church. The history of the Church is filled by outstanding saints who labored to provide Catholic education for young people: St. John Bosco, St. Angela Merici, St. John Baptiste de la Salle, St. Francis de Sales, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Saint Katherine Drexel, etc.


This dedication to education was brought to this country by the Catholic Church. I was born in Louisiana, and have served in Mississippi and now serve here in Alabama. In each place where I have served, it was the Catholic Church that first opened schools for young people before the government decided to do so. The first schools in New Orleans were opened by the Catholic Church. (Interestingly in 1727, these schools educated both whites and blacks.) The first schools on the Mississippi Gulf Coast were opened by the Catholic Church. The first schools in Mobile were opened by the Catholic Church.


These schools are a ministry of the Catholic Church. In each generation it is important to make certain that the whole student is educated: academically, socially, physically, and spiritually. Catholic schools are outstanding in their efforts. I recall being at a student Mass at Auburn University and asking for a show of hands from the students to this question: "How many of you attended Catholic schools?" Most of the hands were raised. This did not surprise me. Some years ago the same question was asked at one of my Masses at the University of Southern Mississippi. About 500 students were present and, again, almost every hand went up. The students even laughed when they saw so many hands being raised. It surprised them, but it made a point: Catholic schools make a difference in the lives of their students. Most of the Catholic students attending Masses at these state colleges had attended Catholic schools.


National studies reflect the fact that Catholic schools make a difference. In every measurable category, those who attended Catholic schools are more likely to be more involved with the Church later on in life. As adults, they are more likely to attend Mass regularly; they are more generous to Church ministries; and they are more likely to get involved in their parishes. This is true whether they are in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s.


Catholic schools not only offer an outstanding education, they also offer an outstanding formation in Gospel values. Our schools not only teach skills which will be the foundation for making a living; our schools teach values which will be the foundation for making a life-a life, not only here and now, but one that will last into all of eternity.


This education is open to all regardless of religion. We do not educate young people because they are Catholic; we educate young people because we are Catholic. In fact, 23% of our Catholic school students are non-Catholic. This is a fact which demonstrates that the value of our Catholic schools is known and respected in the broader community. Nor are our Catholic school enrollments limited to any one group. About 25% of our students are from minority ethnic/racial groups. Nor are Catholic schools only for upper income students. Our schools educate students form a variety of economic backgrounds. For example, five Catholic schools participate in the Federal Lunch Program. At these schools, more than 30% of the students (324 students) qualify for free or reduced lunch which means that the federal government classifies their household income at or near poverty level.


Our schools are a ministry of the Church, not a business. It is an expensive ministry, but a highly important one. I thank the administrators, faculty, and staffs of our Catholic schools for their dedication and love of the students. I thank those who donate to our Catholic schools. Tuition and fees do not pay for the total coast of Catholic school costs. Each year in the Archdiocese of Mobile about $6.8 million, over and above tuition and fees, is donated and raised by parishioners, parents, religious orders, and friends of Catholic schools, to keep our schools open.


Most of all, I thank the parents and families who send their children to Catholic schools, often at great sacrifice. I realize that Catholic schools, for a number of reasons, are not available to every family in our archdiocese. However, those who are able to send their children to Catholic schools are an inspiration to me.


Parents have wonderful hopes for their children. They dream of their children being healthy, being successful with a good job, enjoying a happy marriage, having great children, etc. The greatest hope that any parent can have for their children is that their children will one day enjoy eternal life with God. Parents are entrusted by God with the blessing of children. God places these lives into the hands of parents and gives parents the dignity and duty of raising their children well. The greatest duty of all is to teach their children to love God and neighbor, and to be faithful members of God’s family, the Church. Parents are reminded in the baptismal ritual that they will be the first teachers of the children in the ways of faith. The Church joins in praying that they will be the best of teachers. One day each parent will stand before God to give an accounting of their stewardship as a parent. I firmly believe the sacrifices parents make to give their children both an education and a formation in Gospel values will be pleasing in God’s eyes.

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Printed with permission from the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.

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