The week of January 31 through February 6 this year is Catholic Schools Week. The theme for this year’s celebration is appropriately, Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service. Our Diocese of Palm Beach is truly blessed by outstanding Catholic schools which include three high schools, fourteen grammar schools and three preschools. We are fully committed to Catholic school education which remains a priority in the life of our Diocese precisely because our schools are homes of faith, excellence, and service. Catholic schools make an impressively positive contribution to the life of the Church and to American society. At a time when we are losing so many of the fundamental values which are at the heart of the human family, Catholic schools continue to play an irreplaceable role instilling these values.
There are many impressive facts about Catholic schools which probably are not as well-known as they should be today. Catholic school students are more likely to pray daily, attend church more often, retain a Catholic identity as adults, and contribute more to the Church and society. Students in Catholic schools demonstrate higher academic achievement than their public school peers from similar socioeconomic backgrounds. Ninety-nine percent of Catholic school students graduate from high school on time and eighty-five percent of them attend college. Catholic school students are more civilly engaged and more likely to vote. There are many impressive facts that make Catholic schools a primary choice and these are but a few.
It is not uncommon to hear an individual who attended Catholic school recall the years of Catholic education with fondness and gratitude. As a priest, I often encounter people who will immediately greet me because they remember the days of their youth when they were in a Catholic school and will tell me of the school’s positive influence which has remained with them to this day. It is obvious that Catholic schools make a real difference in the lives of people which remain with them as they face the different challenges, difficulties, and joys of life.
A Catholic school education benefits the individual who receives it in every part of their life. The student comes into daily contact with a faith environment that permeates the academic subjects taught and the social activities of school life. Religion is not just another subject in the curriculum and prayer is not only a routine to begin and end the school day. Faith and prayer are part of the very fabric of a Catholic school’s atmosphere. They exist for this fabric. Even such subjects as math and science take on a faith dimension when they are presented in a Catholic school. The young person learns in a context of faith which makes a difference in everything that he or she will face. Those who teach in a Catholic school are living conveyors of the message of faith. They impart to the young students not only knowledge, but the gift of living example. The celebration of the Eucharist and the availability of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in a Catholic school are blessings to the individual as well as to the school.
Catholic schools make a real difference in the life of the community, the nation, and the world. This is a reality which is many times underestimated, especially during the times in which we live. There is a lack of appreciation for the individual as well as for traditional family life. Catholic schools are counter cultural, providing values and setting moral standards which are not often popular but truly are the foundation of society. Respect for the gift of life, an understanding of the true nature of the sanctity of marriage, a sense of justice and realization of the needs of the poor and less fortunate, as well as a need for a life of faith are but some of the values that are engendered in a Catholic school. Catholic schools provide moral principles to young men and women which are not only basic to our faith but basic to all people. Many an immigrant or person from a poor family has been given an opportunity through a Catholic school education which has made a great difference in our society. Many prominent persons in our society acknowledge the debt they owe to a Catholic school education which has in turn benefitted the community and the nation.
Pope Francis strongly endorses the value and importance of Catholic school education. He emphasized this as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, when he stated, “The education of children and young people is such an important task in forming them as free and responsible human beings. It affirms their dignity as an inalienable gift that flows from our original creation as children made in the image and likeness of God. And because education truly forms human beings, it is especially the duty and responsibility of the Church, who is called to serve mankind from the heart of God and in such a way that no other institution can.” In our Catholic schools, young people are reminded of their value and dignity as being made in the image and likeness of God. It is God who gives them identity and not society nor even themselves. Our young people today need to appreciate more the individual gifts from God that they are and to be secure in an identity which gives them value and dignity from God and no other source. Catholic schools have been instrumental in this respect from their very inception in serving the needs of the poor.
As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, we are grateful for the outstanding Catholic schools within our Diocese and re-commit ourselves to their importance as communities of faith, excellence, and service. Our Catholic schools touch the lives not only of the young people who attend them but of all of us. We need to support our Catholic schools even if our parish does not have its own school. The schools are the present and future life of our Diocese.
I am deeply grateful to all in our Diocese who are so committed to the life of our Catholic schools and I encourage all to assist them in their efforts. I especially thank our Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Gary Gelo, the Associate Superintendent of Schools, Mr. John Clark, and all of the staff of our Catholic Schools Office. On a daily basis they give themselves to making our Catholic schools the best they can be. I also thank the principals, faculty and staff of our schools who go out of their way to give of themselves to our young people in a dedicated and loving manner. They labor from their hearts. Their love for their mission and for our young people certainly has shown itself during this pandemic crisis.
We all have reason to be very proud of our Catholic schools in the Diocese of Palm Beach as they continue to be communities of faith, excellence, and service!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
January 29, 2021