Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium

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INTRODUCTION

Young people are a valued treasure and the future leaders of our Church. It is the responsibility of the entire Catholic community--bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and laity--to continue to strive towards the goal of making our Catholic elementary and secondary schools available, accessible, and affordable to all Catholic parents and their children, including those who are poor and middle class. All Catholics must join together in efforts to ensure that Catholic schools have administrators and teachers who are prepared to provide an exceptional educational experience for young people--one that is both truly Catholic and of the highest academic quality.

In 1990, the Catholic bishops of the United States issued the statement In Support of Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools. In it we affirmed our strong conviction that Catholic elementary and secondary schools are of great value to our Church and our nation; and that, in our role as chief teachers, we are each responsible for the total educational ministry of the local Church. We affirmed that "the entire ecclesial community ... is called to value ever more deeply the importance of this task and mission, and to continue to give it full and enthusiastic support." These Catholic schools afford the fullest and best opportunity to realize the fourfold purpose of Christian education, namely to provide an atmosphere in which the Gospel message is proclaimed, community in Christ is experienced, service to our sisters and brothers is the norm, and thanksgiving and worship of our God is cultivated (p. 2).

In that statement we pointed to the great value and the many successes of Catholic schools and the numerous challenges that they face. We unequivocally committed ourselves and the whole Catholic community to the following set of goals:

* Catholic schools will continue to provide a Gospel-based education of the highest quality.

* Catholic schools will be available, accessible, and affordable.

* The bishops will launch initiatives in both the private and public sectors to secure financial assistance for parents, the primary educators of their children, so that they can better exercise their right to choose the best schools for their children.

* Catholic schools will be staffed by highly qualified administrators and teachers who would receive just wages and benefits, as we expressed in our pastoral letter Economic Justice for All.

Much has changed in our Church and our nation in the ensuing years. Catholic schools continue to be valued and successful; but they still encounter numerous challenges. The bishops have addressed many of the goals that we set in 1990, but much is still left to be done. Therefore, we believe that the time has come to revisit and reaffirm our commitment to Catholic elementary and secondary schools as invaluable instruments in proclaiming the Good News from one generation to the next. This catechesis is a privileged way of "initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life" and is "intimately bound up with the whole of the Church's life" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 5, 7). We believe that now is the appropriate time to renew our challenge to the entire Catholic community to join in this critical endeavor. We are convinced that Catholic schools continue to be "the most effective means available to the Church for the education of children and young people" who are the future of the Church (To Teach as Jesus Did, no. 118).

WHY WE VALUE OUR CATHOLIC ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOLS

Young people of the third millennium must be a source of energy and leadership in our Church and our nation. Therefore, we must provide young people with an academically rigorous and doctrinally sound program of education and faith formation designed to strengthen their union with Christ and his Church. Catholic schools collaborate with parents and guardians in raising and forming their children as families struggle with the changing and challenging cultural and moral contexts in which they find themselves. …