The stewardship model which funds Catholic schools in the Diocese of Wichita has blessed the local Church with numerous priestly and religious vocations, the diocesan superintendent of schools said.

"Combined with the intensive daily formation in faith that our students receive in our Catholic schools, the spirituality of stewardship and the constant interplay between family and parish motivates young people to see their choice of vocation to be an act of stewardship in responding to God's call," Bob Voboril told CNA Jan. 30.

"Because the stewardship way of life has been instilled so strongly into our families and students, our families are active members and leaders in their parishes."

The largely rural diocese with a mere 114,000 Catholics currently boasts 46 seminarians. Voboril noted that the openness to God's will in Wichita's young people can be seen as a natural effect of their parents' generosity in supporting His Church.

The Wichita diocese provides tuition-free enrollment in its schools to the children of active parishioners, through its vigorous model of stewardship.

Under Bishop Eugene Gerber, the diocese adopted its stewardship model in 1985. By giving generously to the diocese, families were able to send their children to the diocese's elementary schools for free.

The model started at St. Francis of Assisi parish under Monsignor Thomas McGread in 1968. He challenged his parishioners to each give at least 5 percent of their income to the parish so that all its obligations would be met.

He later pushed for 8 percent donations to the parish, saying he could then pay for all the students to attend Catholic high school.

After the model was adopted throughout the diocese, schools continued to expand and to be financially stable, and since 2002 every Catholic school in the Diocese of Wichita has been tuition-free for active parishioners. Wichita's 38 schools educate nearly 11,000 students, forming them to be disciples of Christ.

The vision of Catholic education at the diocese is meant to form the whole person, and aims "to help the student respond to God's unique plan for them so that they can live their vocation for the glory of God."

Voboril said that Wichita Catholic schools often have at least ten seniors "choosing to continue their discernment of a religious vocation."

"Our schools are blessed to have outstanding priests assigned as directors of pastoral care/religion teachers. We also have the daily witness of our women religious in the high schools," he noted.

The presence of priest and religious in their schools helps the students to see that life as a way to thrive and flourish. Voboril reported that 70 percent of the diocese' seminarians are graduates of Catholic schools.

Parishioners in the diocese are asked to make a financial commitment each year, as well as volunteer at apostolates, help with religious education, and of course attend Mass each Sunday. This stewardship spirituality is the generosity that makes tuition-free Catholic education possible in southeastern Kansas.

The stewardship spirituality of the diocese is a strong example of the attitude of solidarity which was so important in the teaching of John Paul II. The Catholic Schools Office explains that "the ministries of the parish, including Catholic schools, are the responsibility of the entire parish, not just those who use them."

Thus even parishioners who don't have school-aged children support their parochial schools, and the wealthier parishes help support the poorer ones, through the St. Katharine Drexel Catholic School Fund. This sense of solidarity builds up Catholic identity and faith throughout the Wichita diocese.

"One high school currently has at least 25 alumni in seminaries or discerning religious life. Our diocesan order of women religious continues to grow. We are blessed," Voboril reflected.

As the national Catholic Schools Week from Jan. 28 through Feb. 1 continues, Bishop Joseph P. McFadden of Harrisburg, Pa., lauded Catholic schools for helping evangelize the nation.

In a Jan. 29 statement, the head of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Catholic Education noted that Catholic Schools Week is an opportunity to "recognize and support parents" as they exercise the right to choose Catholic schools "to support the faith formation and excellent education for their children."

"This important week reminds all of us that Catholic education is needed now more than ever to be that place 'which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction,'" he added.