The National Catholic Educational Association highlights some statistics on their website that are quite revealing. Over two million students are enrolled in Catholic schools in the current academic year at the elementary, middle, and secondary levels. Of these students, 317,470 are non-Catholic. That is just under 16% of the total enrollment of students in the Catholic system. There are a total of 6,685 Catholic schools in the United States; we celebrated the opening of 28 new ones this year while also witnessing the closing or consolidation of 148 others. The overall student/teacher ratio is 13:1.
Full-time (equivalent) staff in our Catholic schools is comprised predominantly of the laity; lay women comprise 74.5% while lay men make up 22.3% for a total of 96.8%. Clergy and religious only comprise 3.2 % of professional staff in our Catholic schools.
What do these statistics reveal about the state of Catholic education in our country? Obviously, the Catholic educational system still has a profound impact on our society with 6,685 schools in operation and over 2 million students enrolled. Those numbers suggest a huge potential for shaping the culture with solid Christian Catholic values if effective faith formation and education are a central component of each of these Catholic schools. On the other hand, if we see our schools functioning simply as private schools, but not necessarily all that focused on being Catholic, we won’t see the potential fulfilled as dramatically as it could be. If that occurs, then we have missed our purpose and our mission. There are over 2,000 Catholic schools with a waiting list for admission, and I am sincerely hopeful that our Catholicity is the driving force behind that positive statistic.
The decline of religious men and women (priests, brothers and sisters) has certainly impacted Catholic education in recent decades. This decline has definitely been viewed in a negative light, and with good reason. Our religious men and women bring a Catholic presence into our Catholic institutions that are uniquely their own, and it is sometimes difficult to capture those charisms in laity-led endeavors. However, this decline in the number of religious serving our schools has provided a profound opportunity for the laity to step up to a ministry which empowers them to more fully live out their vocational call to holiness. Vatican II recognized the vital role of the laity, and the modern Catholic educational system is a place where the laity exercise a premier ministry in shaping the hearts and minds of the young Church.
Catholic Schools Week celebrates a wide range of attributes regarding our vast educational system across the country. First and foremost, I see it as a time of gratitude. Many people sacrificed immensely throughout the years to get us to where we are today. They gave generously of their time, talent, and treasure to make Catholic education a reality and we cannot take those sacrifices for granted. Generous people continue to make sacrifices today to continue the tradition, and it is imperative that we live with grateful hearts for these blessings.
Parents, you are the first and primary teachers of your children in the faith. Thank you for the many ways you take that obligation seriously. Your ability to model the faith to your children cannot be matched by anyone else; you have a unique role bestowed by God. The Catholic school and parish serve as a support system to assist you in this endeavor, but you provide the foundation upon which these other avenues are able to build. Please continue to pray with (and for) your children that they may grow in wisdom, grace, and holiness.
Catholic school administrators, you fulfill a significant role in establishing the spiritual climate of your Catholic school. The spirituality of the faculty, staff, students, and parents cannot simply be an “add-on” thing that you do when it is convenient. The Christian perspective has to be the central focus of all that takes place on campus, and a Christ-like attitude should permeate every fiber of our Catholic schools. Administrators, thank you for the leadership you demonstrate to make our Catholicity a reality in the institutions that you serve. Keep the flame of faith burning brightly.
Faculty and staff, thank you for your ministry to the students and parents who enter the walls of your school. Your pursuit of excellence as an educator, and as a Christian, creates an environment in your classroom that serves as a catalyst for others to pursue excellence too. Your enthusiasm for academic learning and faith formation as well as your zest for life are contagious. You have the opportunity to be a blessing to everyone who enters your room, including your colleagues. Don’t miss the chance to be a faithful witness of Jesus Christ!
Students, it can be challenging at times to stay focused on learning, loving, and living Christ. There are many things in the world designed to distract you from those things that are important in your academic studies as well as your faith formation and development. Please know that the guidance of your parents and teachers is a responsibility they possess by the vocational calling they have received, and it is a responsibility not taken lightly. While none of us fulfill our duties perfectly, I hope you are able to witness an abundance of love and caring from those whose care you are entrusted. It is my sincere prayer that each of you experience the immense love of God through the love and respect of your parents and teachers. Happy Catholic Schools Week!
“Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge, and Service”