Keeping the ‘Catholic’ in Catholic Schools

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I scraped the frost off the window on a recent relentless winter morning and looked out to determine if we were going to attend early Sunday Mass at our parish or “Last Chance Mass” at another nearby church. So, 5:30 p.m. Last Chance Mass it was! After fortifying ourselves with copious amounts of hot chocolate, we eventually headed out to our neighboring parish for Mass. The school principal got up to say a few words about Catholic Schools Week following the lively youth-led liturgy.

She was justifiably very proud of her school and the many programs and classes offered to her students. We heard about the science lab and the medical careers program, along with the academic achievements of her charges. The principal sat down to applause and we bundled ourselves up and headed home. I asked my wife what we didn’t hear about during the principal’s talk. She didn’t hesitate with her answer. “We didn’t hear about the Catholic part of Catholic Schools Week,” she replied.

There was no mention of the complementary roles of faith and reason in education. There was nothing about the long history of Christian scholarship for which the Church is seldom credited. There was no Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. The sacramental studies of the grade school students were never mentioned. Now this doesn’t mean that this parish doesn’t excel at instilling these things into their children. They just didn’t like to talk about it. Not one word.

There is an apocryphal saying attributed to St. Francis which rightfully encourages us to integrate our beliefs and actions: “Preach the Gospel often, and if necessary, use words.” This pithy proclamation is amusing, but misguided. The great English writer G. K. Chesterton said, “Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice, it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.”

The following Sunday morning I walked outside with the dog and, like the groundhog, saw my shadow—so off we went to early Mass at our parish. Now, admittedly, we are consistently spoiled with a solid liturgy, good music, and orthodox preaching. So we weren’t surprised, but were still pleased, to hear what our own principal had to say regarding Catholic Schools Week after inviting everyone to the last day of the grade school open house.

We got the good news about the science lab and the math lab and the academic achievements of his charges just as we heard elsewhere the previous Sunday. We also got The Good News about Catholic education. We heard about the Church’s long history of scholarship and the role of faith and reason across the academic disciplines. He spoke of the students’ service projects, working with those in need. He noted the strong participation of the parish’s young people in the annual March for Life. We heard about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We truly celebrated Catholic Education.

Well over a decade ago we moved into our current home and began visiting the various local parishes which were all about the same distance away. We soon were drawn to and chose our current spiritual home. During our time of discernment, we attended some school Masses at our parish. Each younger student was paired with an older student in the pews. The older students helped the younger ones during the liturgy by the older ones. Perhaps more importantly, the younger students helped to keep the older ones on their best behavior! One particularly beautiful experience we had was attending an All Saints Day school Mass. The first graders dressed up as their favorite saint and said a few words about them after Mass. It was awesome. We chose well.

We are so often presented with the logical fallacy of the false choice. Technology vs. theology, faith vs. reason, commandments vs. compassion, to name a few. Why not choose both? This is what a classic Catholic education should offer. It empowers a student with the resources to think and act with knowledge and understanding. If knowledge is power, then faith is freedom.

A Catholic education should give a student the power to succeed and the freedom to reject the moral relativism and false choices of the times. There are such things as intrinsic evils. There is a hierarchy of moral choices. A properly educated mind should understand this. Another name for a “seamless garment” is a shroud! A Catholic education is a life-giving gift to the mind and soul. It’s not a dead thing going with the current and wrapped up in the burial cloth of the culture of death.


TIMOTHY BISHOP has been married to his wife, Donna, for 25 years. They were engaged in St. Peter’s Basilica during a pilgrimage to Italy. They enjoy caring for, photographing, and sharing the beauty of creation.