My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
As we celebrate the Paschal Triduum and Easter Sunday, I wish all of you an abundance of blessings of our Risen Lord! Our celebration of the Lord’s resurrection is an invitation to deepen our commitment as disciples of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Taking to heart our Risen Lord’s command to “go and make disciples,” this great commission pertains not only to religious missionaries who go off to foreign lands to preach the Gospel, but also to the responsibility of our local parish communities to pass on the faith to the next generation.
The seventh declaration of our fourth diocesan synod addresses how to carry out this responsibility: “As a means of fulfilling the responsibility of all the Christian faithful (not just parents) to hand on the Catholic faith to the next generation and in order that cost not be a barrier for children to receive a Catholic education, our parishes and schools through the use of scholarships (public and/or private) shall help pay tuition to make Catholic education available in Catholic grade schools, high schools and parish schools of religion (K-12) for all children of their parishes whose parents agree to the terms of the Family School Agreement.”
I describe this approach as shifting from a consumer mentality of Catholic education to a model of shared responsibility involving the whole community of faith. By “consumer mentality,” I mean a way of looking at Catholic education as a product purchased for students attending Catholic schools and paid for by their parents. Under this approach, the rest of the parish community can wash their hands of responsibility with the rationalization that, since they do not have their own children in the school, they do not have to pay for it. The problem with this way of thinking can be seen simply by looking at our public school financing and realizing that even our public schools are not funded only by the parents of the students.
Everyone pays taxes to support public schools because the education of our next generation of citizens is the responsibility of the entire civic community, not just the parents of the current public school students.
Similarly, the education and formation of the next generation of Catholic disciples is the responsibility of the entire Catholic community, not just the parents of the current Catholic school students.
Catholic schools started in this country free of charge or with a very minimal tuition because of the generosity of the teachers, mostly religious sisters and to some extent religious brothers and priests, who basically donated their services as volunteer teachers in exchange for a very modest stipend and room and board in the convent or rectory. Today, most of our Catholic school teachers are lay people, and although the salaries of our Catholic school teachers are much more than they were years ago, they are less than what the public schools pay, so in a sense our Catholic schools even today are subsidized by the donated services of Catholic school teachers and administrators who are generously willing to work for less than they could make in the public school system.
Still, we must raise sufficient funds to make our Catholic schools available for those who wish to receive a Catholic education without putting this burden entirely on their parents. The way to do this, as adopted by our diocesan synod, is through public and private scholarships.
In terms of public scholarships, the State of Illinois last summer passed a comprehensive education funding bill that was signed into law by the governor. The law includes a provision for tax credit scholarships, which provide strong incentives for donors to support non-public school scholarships for low-income students to attend a non-public school of their choice. More information about these public scholarships is available online at our diocesan website at www.dio.org/schools/investinkids.html.
In terms of private scholarships, our parishes already subsidize Catholic schools to a great extent, in that tuition does not cover the full per-pupil cost of Catholic education. The hope is that an even greater share of tuition costs can be reduced or eliminated by the generosity of parishioners who tithe 8 percent of their income to their parish. The primary provision of the Family School Agreement is that the parents and their children will attend Mass on Sunday and strive to the stewardship and discipleship way of life as everyone else in the parish is asked to do.
The goal is for our Catholic schools to be understood not as some sort of a private school system providing a competitive alternative to the public schools, but as true academies of Catholic discipleship forming the next generation of Catholic followers of Jesus Christ.
May God give us this grace. Amen.