Chair of U.S. bishops’ Catholic education committee: ‘Jesus did not alter the message’

By Valerie Schmalz

Catholic high schools are privileged places of personal witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a unique environment for evangelization of questioning adolescents, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education said.

 “We cannot ignore the culture – the culture confronts us every day,” Spokane, Washington, Bishop Thomas Daly said. “In many ways, the times we live in are a greater challenge than the early Church.”

Addressing the largest gathering of Archdiocese of San Francisco Catholic high school teachers since the onset of the pandemic, the former president, teacher and director of campus ministry of Marin Catholic High School said witness of faith throughout the entire school, not just by religion teachers, is critical.

“There must be a communal aspect to this mission,” he said.

 “Young people are searchers,” Bishop Daly noted. The Gospels demonstrate that Jesus loved, he respected each person’s freedom and Jesus challenged, said Bishop Daly.

“He was compassionate always but he did not compromise,” Bishop Daly told the several hundred teachers gathered for the annual Catholic high school convocation, citing the story of the young man who went away sad when he asked what more he could do, and Jesus told him to sell all his possessions and follow him. “Jesus did not alter the message.”

Not just for teenagers, but for the Apostles and for all of us, “It is always a struggle to believe,” said Bishop Daly, who is in the second year of a three-year term as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life? That is the question, that is the main mission – the salvation of souls,” Bishop Daly told those gathered in the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption event center March 3. Attending were teachers from the four archdiocesan high schools: Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory and Archbishop Riordan, Junípero Serra and Marin Catholic high schools.

American Catholic schools were founded in the 19th and 20th centuries to educate Catholics in a dominant Protestant culture hostile to Catholicism and to evangelize, Bishop Daly said. Today, cancel culture, transgenderism, attacks on Church teaching regarding marriage between a man and a woman and the life issues, as well as mental illness, depression and thoughts of suicide among teenagers cannot be ignored.

Investment in mental health professionals and supports are important, he said, but so is teaching a human anthropology, a view of life, that is based on Christian hope.

Catholic schools are challenged from without and within, including the discounting by some of the central truth of the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Jesus, he said.

“This is a time when we are mending the nets,” Bishop Daly said, but “there are actually people who are cutting the nets as we are mending the nets.”

In addition, parents’ concerns for the future of their children influence school priorities.

“You have parents wanting us to deliver on the tuition they pay, we’re getting them ready for college, yes,” said Bishop Daly. “As a Catholic school, there’s something more for them.  I’m going to prepare you for college, but we also prepare you for life. And it’s just not 5 years, or 10 years, or 20, but certainly, it is eternal life.”

Some Catholic schools draw direction from their interpretation of the intent of the founding religious order, forgetting the founders were disciples of Jesus, Bishop Daly said.

Even as destructive cultural headwinds batter Catholic schools, they must not succumb to immoderation on either side, he said. Bishop Daly cited one of the founders of Catholic education, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton:  “Our Savior was never about extremes.”

“The challenge is to remain, again, faithful, being a witness, and to speak the truth with charity,” he said.

(The morning event was followed by a Mass celebrated by San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, who delivered the homily, and Bishop Tom Daly at St. Mary’s Cathedral.)