As we begin a new school year, I would like to call your attention to some guidance I shared earlier this year for our Catholic grade schools and high schools in a document entitled, Higher Calling, Higher Standards: Renewal of the Mission of Catholic Education in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. I noted that, “The Catholic Church educates more than ten-thousand students in thirty-six Catholic grade schools and seven Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. These forty-three schools represent the Church’s largest investment of resources in pastoral ministry in our diocese, reflecting both the requisite resources for operating effective schools and the high priority we place on handing on the faith to the next generation. More than places of academic learning, our schools are centers of formation for children and community for Catholic families.”
On the plus side, “Our schools are staffed by dedicated teachers and administrators who have devoted their lives to the formation of our young people. Our Catholic school system is a central pillar of our faith community and brings much vitality, purpose, and clarity of mission.”
On the minus side, “Our schools, however, are facing significant challenges that, if left unaddressed, threaten to undermine their stability, vitality, and effectiveness in fulfilling their mission of discipleship. To varying degrees, our schools are facing financial, operational, and cultural disruptions and risks just at the time when the need for a Catholic school system is more urgent than it has been for several generations. Our schools are in urgent need of renewal.”
To address these challenges to fulfilling our high calling, I described seven essential characteristics to which Catholic schools in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois must be held. The seven defining characteristics are:
Inspired by a Supernatural Vision: All aspects of the instruction, curriculum, environment, and culture of our schools are rooted in and flow from a faith in and understanding of the Blessed Trinity as the deepest reality, and embrace our destiny to live eternally with God.
Imbued with a Catholic Worldview across the Curriculum: Flowing from the supernatural vision, our schools reveal the unity of the Creator in creation. In teaching math and science, we reveal the intelligibility, and goodness of creation, which points back to the intelligence and goodness of the Creator. In art and music, we reveal the transcendentals of truth, beauty, and goodness that point us back to the source of all that is true, beautiful, and good. In literature and history, we explore the human soul and moral life in relation to God, and the drama of the human response to God’s loving plan and the providence and active presence of God in the unfolding of human life.
Founded on Christian Anthropology: Our policies, curriculum, and instruction help young people to come to a fuller understanding of their identity as children of God. We equip our students to flourish by helping them to build habits of virtue and avoid habits of vice, and we foster a sense of peace and confidence in their identity as children of God, created in His image, and redeemed and recreated in Christ.
Animated by a Spirit of Community and Communion: Our schools exist to support parents as the first teachers of the faith, to strengthen and enhance the lives of families, and to provide a community in which Catholic families can live and raise their families together.
Sustained by Gospel Witness: All administrators, teachers, staff, and coaches in our schools fulfill a prophetic role of witness by their lives and serve, explicitly, as ministers of the Church. They are called to preach the gospel in what they say and how they live, and they instruct and encourage young people to do likewise. Our students are called to bear witness inside and outside of school in how they treat others, in their concern for the poor and marginalized, and in their upright living in harmony with the Gospel. Our school families are called to live in a manner that reflects their baptismal identity and their vocation of raising children in the faith.
Accessible, Affordable, Stable: In each parish and deanery, pastoral plans are established to ensure that all the faithful have access to Catholic schools. Each school will establish a plan to fully fund its operations through financial support of the parishes and benefactors without charging tuition. The continued viability of Catholic schools will thus require stewardship on the part of the whole community of faith.
Organized and Governed from the Heart of the Church: Each of our school communities finds its identity, mission, and purpose within the Catholic community. Our schools are governed from the authority that Christ has entrusted to the diocesan bishop as a successor to the apostles. Parish schools or community Catholic school systems are to be governed by pastors of participating parishes, and governing boards of high schools or other schools not directly sponsored by parishes. Schools sponsored by religious are to involve the diocesan bishop or delegates, along with local pastors in their governance to ensure the alignment and shared mission of Catholic education.
The full text of Higher Calling, Higher Standards can be found at dio.org/schools.
I am grateful to our priests, principals, teachers, parents, staff, and benefactors for the important roles they fulfill in promoting Catholic education. Please pray for a holy and healthy school year.