“With God, all things are possible …”
By Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone
When “The Nation’s Report Card” (the National Assessment of Educational Progress) was released in October 2022, it highlighted what we have always known: our Catholic schools excel in just about every aspect of education and provide a vital service for our families and for our country. The challenges of the past two years have shined a spotlight on our Catholic schools’ commitment to our young people. This commitment was demonstrated by the fact that Catholic schools opened for in-person learning during the pandemic at more than double the rate of public schools and almost triple the rate of charters. That is extraordinary. It was no easy feat to provide a reasonable balance between health and safety measures and academic excellence. I do not tire of reiterating how proud I am of our teachers and school leaders and just how grateful I am for their commitment to serve when things got tough.
On the one hand, the results of the Nation’s Report Card should not come as a surprise. Catholic schools have always faced challenges and have excelled in their mission despite often being under-resourced and in the face of cultural and political pressure. Historically, the Church and Her saints seem to have flourished when under the greatest pressure. Even the threat of martyrdom in the early Church did not slow the spread of the Gospel. On the contrary, “The blood of Christians .is the seed” of the Church, as the late second-century Christian writer Tertullian once wrote. The witness of the saints is full of examples of people of faith doing the seemingly impossible with next to nothing. How can we account for this mission success time and time again? The answer should not surprise us. Our work is not ours alone.
The National Benchmarks and Standards for Effective Catholic Schools point out that Catholic schools contribute to the evangelizing mission of the Church. Catholic schools carry out a mission that is not merely a human project. They receive their mission and mandate from Jesus Christ, and their good work is animated by the Holy Spirit, who makes possible what is humanly impossible. (Lk 1:37) Catholic education serves the natural order well, forming minds and bodies and forming good citizens, but the means and ends of Catholic education are also supernatural. The formation our young people receive in our schools not only serves them in this world, but it forms them in virtue and prepares them for their eternal destiny. Catholic educators do not carry out their good work alone, but, by virtue of their mission as Catholic educators, align their gifts and talents with the work of the Holy Spirit. When we recognize that the mission to which we are called is not only dependent on us and on our own efforts, we realize that we can not only do what is difficult, but, with the grace of God, what is seemingly impossible.
Our Catholic schools are effective due to the efforts of our teachers and school leaders—efforts that are multiplied when placed in service of the Gospel. The Catholic identity of our schools is their greatest strength because it is not a merely human strength. As we celebrate our Catholic schools during Catholic Schools Week, we give thanks to God for the great mission entrusted to our Catholic schools to teach and evangelize. May our Catholic schools continue to show us what is possible when we align our work with the grace of God!