Catholic Review Column: Back to School

This morning I did something I always dreamed of doing. I appeared on a concert hall stage, the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, to be exact. Thankfully I wasn’t invited to sing or play a musical instrument! Rather, I came to be part of this year’s Catholic Schools Convocation of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.It was a spirit-filled way to begin a new school year, my first as your Archbishop.

I am told that nearly 2,000 Catholic educators were present for that gathering which began with a festive Mass I was privileged to celebrate. A news article about the convocation (see p. ) contains excerpts from my homily, so I will spare you a play-by-play description of it. But here’s the general thrust: Without a doubt I have lots to learn about Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Yet I already know enough to be very grateful for the great dedication of our educational leaders and Catholic school families. I am already proud of the success of our schools as places of intellectual, moral, social, and spiritual formation; our students’ exceptional test scores and graduation rates are but two indicators of that success. Our schools, however, go much farther than helping students reach their full academic potential; they have a critically important role to play in transmitting the Gospel of Christ to each succeeding generation.

All of us who are part of the mission of Catholic education are called to allow the truth and love of Christ to be such a part of our lives that we are able to influence the young people we serve. We are able to open students’ hearts to Christ so that the content of the faith they are learning in the classroom will help shape not only their minds and hearts but their very character.

But don’t take it from me. I think that the students who spoke after Mass at the Convocation said it best. Zach Gabrielle, a student at St. Pius X Elementary School told us about the Christian atmosphere of the school. It is a place where one is treated with kindness and is expected to treat others with kindness. Caroline Bodley, a student at Seton Keough High School, brought us to our feet when she spoke of how her school has helped her along her extraordinary journey. She made it clear that she doesn’t just attend her school; she is part of a school community that brings her joy in what she contributes and in what she receives. And Leonard Jacques, a senior at Archbishop Curley High School, spoke with great effectiveness and poise in telling how his studies helped him to understand and appreciate the celebration of Mass so much so that he looks forward to attending Mass on Sunday.

Needless to say I am most grateful for these young people for their heartfelt reflections of the importance of Catholic education in their lives. With wisdom beyond their years, they are pointing out life-long, priceless benefits of Catholic education. Our schools enjoy the freedom to incorporate the light of Christ’s truth and the warmth of His love not only in academics but in the very culture of school itself. This means that religion is not an “add-on” – an extra subject that students take in an otherwise secular ambiance. Rather, it means that our schools are positioned to help young people to know Christ whose love unlocks their talents, helps them grow in virtue, and enables them to look not only to their own needs but also the needs of others.

I realize that in these tough economic times, it is hard for many families to find the financial wherewithal to send their children to a Catholic school. And I am already aware that available scholarship funds do not meet the financial needs of many potential Catholic school families. In the time ahead, we must continue the work of doing everything possible to make our schools not only excellent in the formation they provide but also sustainable and accessible. With God’s grace and the help of many I’ll put my shoulder to the wheel.

For now, let’s remember in prayer our students and their teachers as school begins anew. May this academic year be a great blessing for our deserving young people and their families.

Archbishop William E. Lori

Archbishop William E. Lori was installed as the 16th Archbishop of Baltimore May 16, 2012.

Prior to his appointment to Baltimore, Archbishop Lori served as Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., from 2001 to 2012 and as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington from 1995 to 2001.

A native of Louisville, Ky., Archbishop Lori holds a bachelor's degree from the Seminary of St. Pius X in Erlanger, Ky., a master's degree from Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg and a doctorate in sacred theology from The Catholic University of America. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1977.

In addition to his responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop Lori serves as Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus and is the former chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.