Next weekend, we will celebrate another milestone in the history of our parish with the dedication of the new wing and the restoration of the older parts of our school building! Thank you to all who have made this possible, especially the leadership of our Capital Campaign, our Principals (recent past and present), and the many people who work behind the scenes to maintain our Catholic identity and continue to grow our fine school. Above all, thank you who have supported these efforts, especially with your stewardship of treasure. Today, Catholic identity in a school is more than just having the external appearances of being “Catholic,” such as having crucifixes and other holy images displayed. These should be there, as they are visible reminders to of the faith; but the faith needs to go deeper than that. Catholic identity should be seen in how our schools take the opportunity to pray on a daily basis, reminding our staff AND our students that God is close to them and that they should always be turning to Him for His guidance and protection.
Our schools must be places where students learn about Christ, not just as a person about whom they would study in a history class, but as somebody who they get to know on a personal level as one who loves them and who wants to share His life with them. They also learn the many other wonderful teachings that He has given us to help us in our lives.
So, we should expect to find an environment where everybody is treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve as children of God. Each student is not just being prepared to be successful in whatever lies ahead in life, but also they are being formed to be saints one day in Heaven. That is the greatest accomplishment we could ever hope for and, in the end, the only one that truly matters. It is for that reason that we place so much emphasis on teaching and living the Catholic faith in our Catholic schools. I’m certainly not suggesting that these other areas are unimportant, because they are! But they all find their true meaning and importance only when viewed through the important lens of our Catholic Faith. This is something that priests, principals, teachers, faculty, staff, and everybody involved in Catholic education needs to take very seriously, because we all have been entrusted with the great task of forming young people in various areas. It is demanding work to make possible an environment that strives for excellence in every area, all while doing so under the guidance of our Catholic Faith, a task that is becoming increasingly difficult in the world in which we live.
The responsibility of maintaining a strong Catholic identity does not fall just on the adults. Students have a very important role to play in this regard. They can be taught all of the right things to know, say and do. They can also be given an environment which is very supportive of living their Catholic faith. But they have to make the choice to put into practice their Catholic faith – we cannot do that for them. By making this conscious decision to let their lives be guided by their Catholic faith, they do far more than they may realize to make their school one that is not just Catholic in name, but one in practice. If each student makes the commitment to take ownership for his or her faith, then our Catholic schools will stand out as truly being Catholic. If they do not make that commitment, the entire school will suffer as a result of their actions and be Catholic in name only, regardless of how hard the adults work in teaching the students and providing a good environment in which to practice that faith.
We must ensure that our work in building a culture of discipleship gives significant attention to the students in our Catholic schools. We need to take a very hard look at how we are forming them, and whether that formation gives enough emphasis to supporting them intentionally to live their lives as disciples. The primary educators of our children are the parents, and we will continue to support them in this endeavor. May they return the favor.
We know the old saying that you cannot give what you do not have. That applies in a very particular way in this area. An important part of preparing our students to be disciples is to work on ensuring that all those who are responsible for their formation are themselves disciples who lovingly follow Jesus in their lives.  I encourage our parents to continue to press on with the good work that you are doing in supporting our school and in setting the first good example of Christian living in the home. I assure you of my gratitude and continued support for you in this work. We’re all moving forward in this new direction of stewardship and discipleship and it is good for us to see how interconnected all of our ministries are and how important it is to work together in building a culture that is supportive of the growth that the Lord desires for His Church.
May we always give thanks to God for the wonderful blessings that we have in our Catholic schools and the opportunities that they provide in forming our young people to be disciples of the Lord. Let’s ask the Lord for the grace to continue to do our part in supporting this important aspect of the life of our diocese, for our efforts now will pay dividends in the future, as these young people take their places in the Church as faithful and committed followers of the Lord, continuing to build up the Kingdom of God in our midst!