When a child is baptized in the Catholic Church, his/her parents make promises to help their child grow in the Church’s faith. Parents are their “first teachers,” their “first preachers” of the faith and, as a result, the family home becomes the “first Catholic school” and a “domestic Church.”
Without their direct and active involvement in their child’s faith formation, however, faith doesn’t happen, it won’t happen. Simple things like teaching and “hearing” a child’s prayers, telling Bible stories, taking a child to Church, showing a child the difference between right and wrong, giving good example, treating people with respect and charity and so on, these are all part of Catholic parents’ primary responsibilities to their baptized Catholic children.
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What if parents don’t exercise their faith responsibilities for whatever reason? What happens to the faith of their baptized child? The answer is simple: nothing. Bringing a child into the Catholic Church in Baptism without making him/her welcome, at home, familiar with the Church —- at least on a level appropriate to a child —- make him/her a stranger to and within the community that is home to the Catholic faith.
Thank God for Catholic schools! (Thank God, also, for Catholic religious education programs in our parishes!) Although nothing can substitute for parents’ active witness to the faith in the Catholic home, Catholic schools should be an extension of the Catholic home and faith, building on its foundation or, more often than ever before, becoming a first foundation where it does not yet exist.
In either case, Catholic schools are or should be partners to Catholic parents forming and engaging their children in Catholic faith, along with other subjects as well. The goal is to help children become good Catholics, with knowledge of their faith, exposure to prayer and the sacraments, becoming part of their parish church community and the experience of living and relating to others —adults and peers alike — with respect and charity. These are all things taught in Catholic schools, their religion curriculum. And children live what they learn.
“Catholic Schools Week” annually provides all Catholics — whether they have children in Catholic schools or not — with the chance to think about how the faith is taught and witnessed and the “value” that Catholic schools offer to children, to parents, to families, to the Church, to society at large with respect to that faith and its influence.
Is that “value” worth the sacrifice it takes for parents and families to provide Catholic school education to their children when public school education is readily available without any extra cost required? The research has been done and a majority of graduates of Catholic schools at the primary and secondary levels have demonstrated greater success across the board in a variety of measures than their public school counterparts.
We live at a time, however, when many Catholic schools throughout the country , including our own Diocese, are facing significant challenges to their continued operations because of steadily declining enrollments and the resulting strain on available financial resources; the inability of parishes and dioceses to provide subsidies to Catholic schools at past levels; competition with public schools for faculty, staff at higher salaries and competition for facilities; demographic shifts in traditionally Catholic population centers; growing secularization among Catholics regarding Catholic teachings and practices; and, as mentioned before, the perception of “value” afforded by instruction in the Catholic faith and its influence.
The key to the future of primary and secondary Catholic schools lies in the hands of Catholic parents and families as well as non-Catholics who “value” Catholic education for their children. It comes down to a decision. Catholic schools do the job and do it well. A Catholic environment with its emphasis on caring for the whole person; a commitment to unity of purpose provided by Catholic faith, identity and mission; the presence of institutional structure and teaching personal discipline; adherence to codes of conduct and appropriate behavior; advocacy of social justice and service; excellence in education and a proven record of academic success; religious instruction; the personal commitment of administration, faculty and staff; a sense of partnership with parents and family, the loyalty of alumni —- these characteristics of Catholic schools demonstrate the “value” that Catholic education provides.
A healthy and strong society needs good public schools. The history of American education reveals that good Catholic schools have also made a substantial contribution to society and are, likewise, necessary. “Catholic Schools Week” is an annual reminder that Catholic schools continue to make an incredible, faith-based difference in the lives of students with a “value” worth choosing.