One only has to read the newspaper or listen to the news reports to capture the sense of anxiety that the financial turmoil has created in our society. The feeling of uncertainty, the apprehension of not knowing what tomorrow brings and the sense of insecurity has affected every aspect of our daily lives. Our Catholic schools have not been exempted from this stress. It has affected us here in the Archdiocese of Baltimore as well as across the nation. The financial crisis has only augmented the challenges that we face.
Yet, with all that we must contend with, we cannot lose hope or let all the accomplished good that is witnessed daily be lost. We cannot diminish the challenges but neither can we allow ourselves to be overcome by them. It is times like these that we have to reinforce and reassure ourselves that Catholic education is still an integral part of the teaching apostolate of the church. We must remind ourselves that when tracing the history of Catholic education in America it has always been subject to trials and tribulations. The many religious men and women who laid the foundation for our Catholic schools faced what seemed to be insurmountable odds when starting Catholic schools, yet they met those challenges with faith, determination, fortitude and a grounded belief in the mission of Catholic education. Their passion and commitment led to hope and it was that hope that strengthened the roots of the Catholic school system. Today, the issues may be somewhat different, but the manner in which we approach them has not changed.
The excellence associated with Catholic schools remains constant. Our elementary school children continue to excel in the academic arena. Our standardized test scores are consistently above the national norm in all subject areas; our high school graduation rate remains at the 99 percent level; acceptance rate of our students into college stands at 97 percent; every year our graduating seniors are awarded millions of dollars for college scholarships; our schools continue to be places where the Gospel message is taught, modeled and lived; and religion is taught not just as a subject, but as part of our Catholic identity. The impact of a Catholic education addresses every aspect of our students’ development, spiritual, academic, moral and social.
These are not just assumptions. What better way can they be verified but by our students’ own words. Here are excerpts written by senior students honored at the 2008 Distinctive Scholars Convocation. They wrote essays on what it meant to have a Catholic education. These are just a few of the 66 students who wrote their thoughts. All were similar in content and feeling. Listen to the depth and sincerity of what they experienced.
“Whether the Catholic school I attended was teaching me important values or was helping me grow in other ways, I can always look back at these times in a Catholic school and realize how important they were to my development as an intelligent, compassionate, prepared and overall better individual.”
“Attending a Catholic high school has imparted upon me a firm foundation of Catholic morals that guide me now and will continue to affect me throughout my life.”
“Had I not attended Catholic school I am convinced that I would not be the strong Christian young woman that I am today. Catholic school has taught me to stay true to my convictions and live my life to best serve God and others.”
St. Mary’s High School
“Catholic school has allowed me to express my beliefs and pray freely with my classmates, and this has definitely helped me to define myself as a kind, caring and confident person.”
The Catholic High School of Baltimore
Here is where our hope is the strongest. It is the hope that our students give us when they acknowledge, understand, affirm and give witness to the wondrous gift of a Catholic education. We will confront the challenges; our archbishop has demonstrated his commitment to that cause. We will continue to blend the excellence of an academic program, with the strong values of our Catholic tradition. We will preserve this great legacy handed down to us, and it will be sustainable so long as we have faith, determination, fortitude and a grounded belief in the mission of Catholic education.
Dr. Valenti is the superintendent for schools of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.