This past year, five of our Catholic schools in the Diocese of Trenton were awarded the coveted National Blue Ribbon School recognition by the United States Department of Education. That is an amazing accomplishment and a source of pride not only for the individual schools themselves – administrators, faculty, staff, volunteers, parish priests, students and families – but for all of us committed to Catholic education. Our Catholic schools have been regularly among those singled out for this recognition, but to have five in one academic year is truly awesome!
Each year, the Church in our country dedicates the last week of January to Catholic schools and gratefully lifts them up as one of the most prominent means for the transmission of our Catholic faith to the young. Building upon the foundations established within Catholic families, our Catholic schools partner with them in opening the minds, hearts and souls of the students entrusted to their care to look at the world in a different, fuller, deeper way motivated by our Catholic faith.
Learning “happens” in a Catholic school because teaching puts the student and his/her needs first. There, knowledge and truth are “experienced” by them through the dedication and commitment of professionals who believe in what they teach as a revelation of God’s goodness and love for the world he has created. Religion and all the other academic subjects, integrated and taught so effectively and comprehensively, are a “package deal” in a Catholic school.
Pope Francis has observed, “An education in the fullness of humanity should be the defining feature of Catholic schools.” Teaching the Catholic faith as Truth is an essential element of that “fullness.” It is no wonder at all that students in Catholic schools succeed. The proof of that success has been demonstrated and acknowledged time and again within the Church and society at large.
As the Diocese of Trenton celebrates Catholic schools and their faith-based accomplishments in the lives of their students, we also recognize the challenges they face. Like many other dioceses throughout the United States, we have witnessed the closing of some Catholic schools over the past several years. The big factor has been and remains steadily declining enrollments and the consequent loss of revenue needed to maintain operations.
Providing quality Catholic education is not inexpensive and costs rise every year, despite valiant efforts by Catholic school administrators and pastors to control budgets. With diminishing tuition revenues and all the other fiscal demands placed upon them, parishes and even the Diocese itself cannot continue to subsidize all our Catholic schools as their increasing needs demand.
Enrollment is key. Whatever the reasons are for its downturn – and we have analyzed them over and over again – we can only hope that the “value added” by a Catholic education, evidenced and documented by its positive results, will become more convincing to the Catholic population at large. If it does not, the trend, unfortunately, will continue.
I had hoped to hit the “Mega Millions” or “Powerball” jackpots a few months ago in order to solve these problems but, alas, Lady Luck did not shine on me! Absent such fortune, we need to put our shoulder to the task of providing Catholic education to the current and next generations with renewed conviction that our Catholic schools provide the highest and best quality education available. We must develop creative solutions to the challenges we face. Whatever we can do to promote Catholic schools at every level is a responsibility that we share as Catholics.
As with the Gospel, we need to spread the good news far and wide and to become “ambassadors” of Catholic schools in our local communities and parishes. Although our parish and diocesan resources are limited, our hope in the future is not.
The Diocese of Trenton advertises that “Catholic Schools Have it All.” I would like to add two words to that truth: “Catholic Schools Have It All … FOR YOU!” Please support our Catholic schools.