Each year at this time, we celebrate Catholic Schools Week. This is a special recognition of the efforts of the Catholic Church to provide a good Catholic education for our children. Catholic schools have been a prime means of evangelization for the church in the United States since the early days of our country.
The tradition of Catholic schools in the United States goes back to 1606, when the Franciscans opened a Catholic school in St. Augustine, Fla. According to Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia (p. 871), Catholic schools were the first schools opened in Louisiana, California, Kansas, North Dakota, Ohio, Kentucky, and the District of Columbia. This shows the importance that the Catholic Church placed on proper education in the faith and in a faith-filled environment. While secular subjects were taught, the element of our relationship with Almighty God was not to be forgotten. Prayer also was always an important part of Catholic education.
There have been many heroes and heroines in the field of Catholic education. Two of our own American saints were strong leaders in the field of Catholic education. Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born United States citizen to be canonized, began her Catholic school with a new religious order of sisters, the Sisters of Charity, in Emmitsburg, Md., in 1809. Another canonized saint, St. John Neumann, bishop of Philadelphia from 1852 to 1860 and a member of the Redemptorists, was a major advocate of parochial schools.
Many religious congregations have served our South Carolina Catholic schools. Presently there are members of one congregation of religious brothers and six congregations of religious sisters teaching in our Catholic schools throughout the Diocese of Charleston. Some of our diocesan priests are also teaching part time in our Catholic schools. God bless them all.
Catholic schools are growing throughout South Carolina as the population continues to increase. We need many more Catholic schools and good religious teachers — sisters, brothers, and lay teachers.
Our Catholic elementary schools and high schools are blessed with dedicated principals, teachers and staff. The many parents who assist either as members of the school boards or the various P.T.O.s are bringing great help to the schools, and we are most grateful to each of you for your assistance. You are essential!
Bishop David B. Thompson, during his time as ordinary of the Diocese of Charleston, gave four criteria for our schools:
1) Catholic identity
2) academic excellence
3) community support
4) financial stability
These criteria have been endorsed by Bishop Robert J. Baker and are truly a necessary part of a good Catholic school system.
As we look to the future, it will take all of us working together to not simply maintain an excellent Catholic school system in our diocese, but to be certain that the atmosphere in our schools is a Christ-centered atmosphere, one centered around the holy Eucharist and one that can be well identified as Catholic. Our children and our young people have one chance at a good Catholic education. It is for all of us to actively support these institutions of evangelization and education. When Christ becomes the center of all we do and how we live, then our lives will be united to his and our young people will be well equipped for the future.
Devotion to our Blessed Mother is also an important part of our Catholic education. “To Jesus through Mary” brings us as close to the Redeemer as possible. If we are close to the Mother, we will never be far from the Son.
Again, congratulations to all who in any way take part in and support our Catholic schools throughout the diocese. With a strong faith in Christ and his church, our youth will be prepared for life. Together, let each of us maintain that strong support that will lead our students to be faithful to the Gospel.
In a special way, I thank Bishop Robert J. Baker for his constant support of our Catholic schools. Special notes of appreciation to Dr. Margaret Adams, our outstanding superintendent of schools, and to the entire Office of Christian Formation. Thank you once again to our wonderful parents. May God bless us all and bless our Catholic schools.
Msgr. Joseph R. Roth, V.G., is vicar for Catholic education.