What Makes a Catholic School Catholic?
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What Makes a Catholic School Catholic?

To Teach as Jesus Did:

Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee

January 2012


“What Makes a Catholic School Catholic?”

As we approach Catholic Schools Week 2012, I feel compelled to state the obvious:  a Catholic school must be a Catholic school.

Why make this point?  Who would disagree?

Lately I’ve been part of any number of discussions about the benefits of charter schools, private schools, and values-based education in general that, at least implicitly, equate these fine opportunities with Catholic schools.  I’ve also heard some proponents of Catholic education begin their list of “what makes a school Catholic” with rationale based on students’ academic achievements, school safety, strong and caring community experiences, and opportunities for leadership development and service. Again, who could wish to refute or downplay these accurate and legitimate points?

But Catholic schools must essentially be Catholic schools.  That is, their special character and the underlying reason for their existence is precisely the quality of the religious instruction integrated into the overall education of the students (Catechesi Tredendae, 69).  This religious instruction, faithful to the teachings of the Church according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, presents the Catholic faith “systematically and in a way that is suited to young people today” (Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, 73).  Truly effective religious education and faith formation not only teaches about the faith but forms all members of the school community—students, teachers, staff, administrators, and parents—in the way of holiness.  This is the essence of Catholic education.

Catholic schools exude a Catholic ethos and culture.  In them, at every level, the Church’s sacramental life is faithfully explained and richly experienced.  Prayer permeates all aspects of curricular and co-curricular activities, and timeless Church traditions, especially the liturgical seasons and the lives of the saints, are ritualized and remembered.   Visible evidence of faith fills the Catholic school environment.

Catholic school teachers, our most treasured resources, realize how demanding but also how privileged is their call to explicitly teach and tirelessly model, for their students and each other, what it means to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

As Catholic Schools Week 2012 dawns, we thank and congratulate the more than 2,500 Catholic school teachers, pastors, administrators-, and staff members who lead the 119 Catholic schools of our Archdiocese.  In the words of Pope John Paul II, they are “great gifts to the Church,” men and women of faith who understand their present mission and who are doing much to shape a “peaceful, just, and hope-filled world for the future.”   Our 32,100 students and their parents are the grateful beneficiaries of their faithfulness, their foresight, and their care.

A blessed Catholic Schools Week to all!

Kathleen A. Cepelka, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Catholic Schools

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