Concerned about passing on the faith in an increasingly secular environment, the bishops of the United States insightfully write, “To shut religion out of the school, and keep it for home and the Church, is, logically, to train up a generation that will consider religion good for home and the Church, but not for the practical business of real life.”
The bishops previously noted that “the three great educational agencies are the home, the Church, and the school” and acknowledged that the influence of the school “often outweighs that of home and Church.” In essence the bishops warn against the tendency to privatize religion, to reduce it to the level of a family custom or sectarian act of worship with no bearing on the “real life” matters learned in school. However, these quotes do not come from a recent USCCB document on religious freedom; rather it is from a pastoral letter written by the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884.
This national gathering of American bishops ordered a variety of things, including the creation of the famed Baltimore Catechism and establishment of the Catholic University of America. This council also issued another mandate that has greatly impacted the face of the Catholic Church in the United States: the call for every Catholic child to receive a Catholic education through a parochial school.
Much has changed since this initial call for Catholic schools: the number of schools rose to a height of about 12,000 in the mid-1960s and has since declined to about half that; lay teachers have practically replaced religious and clergy in the classroom; home schooling has flourished into a viable and laudable means of education; and most Catholic immigrants now come from the South rather than across the Atlantic. Despite these and many other changes, the fundamental reason for the advantage and importance of Catholic schools is the same today as it has been the past century and a half. Namely, Catholic schools — together with the home and Church — help foster a comprehensive environment of Faith, thus forming our students to incorporate the Faith in every part of their life.
What are some signs of this formative Catholic environment at Assumption and DeSales? There are the obvious answers, but I wish to quickly sketch three lesser known highlights.
Our schools are unique for having a retreat program for all grade levels. This starts with Kindergarten’s 45-minute mini retreat on thankfulness to God and culminates in the overnight Senior Pilgrimage.
The priests are incredibly present at the schools this year. Fr. David Kuttner now serves as chaplain for Catholic schools and has his office at DeSales. Fr. Nicks is teaching a new Introduction to Philosophy course to our seniors this semester, and I am preparing to teach Christian Spirituality to our juniors in the spring. Meanwhile, Fr. Gaines is working to incorporate Theology of the Body in our eighth grade religion classes.
Lastly, our schools have been blessed to facilitate conversions to the Faith over the years. As a case in point, seven students and two school parents were received into the Church this past Easter Vigil.
We are indeed blessed by our Catholic schools — founded by the sacrifice of religious women and men and sustained by the generosity of alumni and laity. As we embark on the new academic year, I encourage all parishioners to pray for our schools. May Assumption and DeSales continue and advance in the ministry of helping form our children in the Faith for generations to come.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!