I. Introduction: Thanksgiving
A. On this first day of Catholic Schools Week, it is a pleasure to join with you in celebrating the 150th anniversary of St. Agnes School. I would like to take this moment to thank Father Foppiano for his leadership and deep interest in St. Agnes School; to express our thanks to Julia Roberts for her service as principal, as well as your gratitude to the staff and teachers of St. Agnes School, and to the members of the school board, led by Becky Brauer. Thank you so much for dedicated service to our children and their families.
B. Of course, our debt of gratitude runs even deeper on an anniversary such as this. Back in 1852, an acre of land was donated to the Archdiocese of Baltimore for the construction of a church here in Catonsville. As it happened, the Pastor at the time was named (what else?) Father Caton. People scraped together what they had to build a church and thirteen years later, the parishioners built a school, originally staffed by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, later by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In the 1920’s a new school was constructed and the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word began to staff the school. Later, in the 1930’s the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary did so. We recall Msgr. Maurice Roche who served has pastor here for 31 years until 1973. During his tenure, St. Agnes School reached its highest enrollment, 1,300 students! Let me also recall Bishop Victor Galeone’s love for the school and Msgr. Carl Cummings who oversaw the building of a new activity center. Such is a rapid and incomplete sketch of St. Agnes School, a reminder to thank and pray for those who have gone before us in this endeavor.
II. The Successors
A. But who are the true successors of those who have gone before us? Naturally, they include everyone who carries forward the mission of St. Agnes School; but, in a special way, it is you, the parents, who continue to send their children to St. Agnes – you are the successors of those pioneers who have gone before us. For it is you who are convinced of the mission of this school, namely, to provide a sound Catholic education that is academically excellent in an atmosphere of respect and love where in young people can flourish – spiritually, intellectually, physically, and socially. It is your belief in this mission that we must acknowledge on anniversary day!
B. And acknowledge it we should, for it is reflected amply in today’s Scripture readings, beginning with our first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. Recall what the Lord said to Jeremiah concerning his calling as a prophet: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you” (Jeremiah 1:4-5). What mother or father does not think of their child as precious in the eyes of God? What mother or father does not wonder what God has in mind for their cherished sons and their daughters? Who does not think that the image of God’s love is not inscribed on the humanity of their children from the first moment of their existence?
C. And so from the very beginning, you want to form your children not in the ways of the world but according to God’s design. We see the design of God for our lives reflected in today’s second reading, the beautiful hymn to love found in St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians. We know, of course, that the word “love” is used to describe many things, including a multitude of sins, but authentic Christian love is something different. Authentic love comes to us from the heart of Jesus. Other kinds of love can be tainted with selfishness and deceit but Jesus loves us for our own sake and give his life for us without seeking any reward except the benefit his love brings to us – namely, salvation from our sins and a renewed capacity to love God and others. So dear parents, we want our children to succeed academically, we want them to excel in sports, in the arts and sciences, in many fields of endeavor, and, yes, we want them to be prepared for a good job and a good life – but we know that all of that is a house of cards unless our children learn to love – unless they learn that they are loved by God in a quite unconditional way and unless they in turn learn to love others as they have been loved. Three things last: faith, hope, and love and the greatest of these is love!
D. Forming our young people in love amid a world that is not always so loving is, (as every parent in this church can attest) a formidable task. Think about the peer pressure that young people face today. Strangely enough, we see a kind of peer pressure reflected in Gospel where people are reacting to Jesus’ inaugural sermon in his hometown synagogue. At first, the people liked what they heard but then they began to murmur. Isn’t this Jesus the son of Joseph, the carpenter? Didn’t he make a table and benches for my house? Who does he think he is? He should stay in his lane and be like everyone else…just like us, they thought. And they were not only serious about this, they were furious… …What parent isn’t concerned about the furious peer pressure children face to go along even with very destructive things, in order to get along, to fit in.
III. Partners in Formation
A. Yes, forming young people to be faithful followers of Christ, active members of the Church, strong in virtue and loving in their generosity – this is indeed a formidable task that has been entrusted to you, as parents. I admire you and support you in your vocation, and I would say, on this occasion, that Catholic schools see themselves as your partner and co-worker. The motto of our schools is summed up in two words: Rise Above! We want our children to rise above anything and everything that would impede them from fulfilling their God-given potential. We want our children to rise above anything that would hinder them from forming every aspect of their humanity according to the truth of the Gospel and the love of our Savior. We want our children to rise above unhealthy peer pressure and instead become those women and men God meant them to be from the moment he formed them in the womb. This is why we are so proud of students as we see them rising above, as we see them exceling, and growing toward authentic faith-filled maturity.
B. There are many sources of assistance and support for parents, but on this first day of Catholic Schools Week and on this special Anniversary, I am pleased to commend to you St. Agnes School. It requires of you, our parents, a tremendous financial sacrifice and I recognize how challenging it is to sustain our schools. Yet, I also want to say that in every way our schools represent value – both divine and human value – for our young people and for our future.
C. And so, today, my warmest congratulations and my thanks! May God bless those who have established this school! May God bless all of its alumni, both living and dead!
May God bless our parents, our students, our school leadership, and keep us always in his love!