It’s that time again!

A Back-to-School message from Bishop O'Connell
September 5, 2023 at 1:00 a.m.
These students from St. Gregory the Great Academy, Hamilton Square, are ready for the 2023-2024 school year. Mike Ehrmann photo
These students from St. Gregory the Great Academy, Hamilton Square, are ready for the 2023-2024 school year. Mike Ehrmann photo (Michael Ehrmann)


Three words loom large around this time every year: BACK TO SCHOOL!  It seems like just yesterday the radio was blasting the 1972 classic “Schools Out for Summer” by Alice Cooper to the delight of kids (and teachers!) everywhere!  That didn’t last long. 

By mid-June, stores were already boasting “Back to School Savings” as they began stocking their shelves once again with fancy backpacks, notebooks, pens and pencils and all the equipment necessary to face a return to the classroom.

It is really hard for me to believe that it’s been over 50 years since my brothers and I boarded the yellow school bus to make our way to Our Lady of Grace Parish Grammar School in Penndel, Pa. 

Our lives have taken us in so many different directions since then, but we all gratefully share a great foundation made possible by the readin’, (w)ritin’, ‘rithmetic and religion we learned “from the nuns” who taught us in Catholic school! I loved the IHM sisters!

Summer seems to go faster and faster each year, doesn’t it?  Where does the time go?  Trips to the shore or mountains, baseball games, summer camp, carnivals, picnics and just plain “hanging out” with friends fade all too quickly as Labor Day rolls around.

WheClick to view this special section...n you think of it, we are so blessed to live in a country that places a priority on good primary and secondary education, the building blocks of healthy communities and neighborhoods.  Good schools make good citizens! And good Catholic schools help support the development of an active life of faith, in and outside the classroom! I see that firsthand when, as Bishop, I visit the Catholic schools of our Diocese.

True enough, the number of “nuns” – dedicated religious sisters – teaching in our Catholic schools has diminished over the years but the Catholic values they worked so hard to impart are still vibrant in the committed ranks of incredible lay women and men administrators, teachers and staffs who have generously accepted the call to serve in our Catholic schools and classrooms. They truly deserve our gratitude and support day in and day out.

When a child is baptized a Catholic, the baptismal ritual states that “parents are the first teachers in the ways of faith.”  Building upon that sacramental assertion and parental responsibility, the Catechism of the Catholic Church rightfully explains that “parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children” (CCC, 2223).  

Sending a child to Catholic school is not a surrendering of that “first responsibility.” No, it is rather the beginning of a deep and abiding partnership of faith and moral formation between parents and the Catholic school teachers to whom they entrust their most precious gift. Faith, trust and sacrifice are words which characterize that relationship and the work of our Catholic schools -- especially now with  parents’ ever tightening resources --and are what makes Catholic education possible when other options are available.

Catholics are all “stakeholders” in this tremendously important enterprise of building a Catholic school community of faith and relying on that faith throughout our lives.

Religious instruction makes a genuine difference in the educational experience of primary and secondary Catholic school students, not only in the strengthening and deepening of the Catholic faith, but also in the approach our Catholic schools take toward instruction in all other subjects. 

Research and data readily back that assertion up. Catholic schools strive for and achieve general academic excellence while at the same time enhancing their students’ experience of prayer, respect and concern for peers and development of moral character and good citizenship.

In the agenda-driven times in which we live, the general educational landscape and curriculum have been affected by the insertion and advocacy of opinions and perspectives that can be difficult to counter. 

While Catholic schools bravely try to resist such impulses, the broader academic society has given them freer reign.  Catholic schools give parents and families a choice that dares to be different. It is not an easy effort. But it is worth considering when choosing a school. The choice becomes clearer every day.

Society benefits from good public schools and their dedicated teachers, no question and no criticism here. Two of my brothers attended public high schools and they were no worse for the wear. But society also benefits from the difference that good Catholic schools and their committed Catholic school teachers have to offer.   

So, as summer wanes and our children board their school buses to head “back to school,” let’s all strive to provide them with the very best education possible. That’s a worthy and noble goal we all can share.

President John F. Kennedy once declared, “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” True and wise words! Permit me, however, to make a slight change and say, children are not only the world’s “best hope for the future” but also, the world’s best hope for the present!

 


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Three words loom large around this time every year: BACK TO SCHOOL!  It seems like just yesterday the radio was blasting the 1972 classic “Schools Out for Summer” by Alice Cooper to the delight of kids (and teachers!) everywhere!  That didn’t last long. 

By mid-June, stores were already boasting “Back to School Savings” as they began stocking their shelves once again with fancy backpacks, notebooks, pens and pencils and all the equipment necessary to face a return to the classroom.

It is really hard for me to believe that it’s been over 50 years since my brothers and I boarded the yellow school bus to make our way to Our Lady of Grace Parish Grammar School in Penndel, Pa. 

Our lives have taken us in so many different directions since then, but we all gratefully share a great foundation made possible by the readin’, (w)ritin’, ‘rithmetic and religion we learned “from the nuns” who taught us in Catholic school! I loved the IHM sisters!

Summer seems to go faster and faster each year, doesn’t it?  Where does the time go?  Trips to the shore or mountains, baseball games, summer camp, carnivals, picnics and just plain “hanging out” with friends fade all too quickly as Labor Day rolls around.

WheClick to view this special section...n you think of it, we are so blessed to live in a country that places a priority on good primary and secondary education, the building blocks of healthy communities and neighborhoods.  Good schools make good citizens! And good Catholic schools help support the development of an active life of faith, in and outside the classroom! I see that firsthand when, as Bishop, I visit the Catholic schools of our Diocese.

True enough, the number of “nuns” – dedicated religious sisters – teaching in our Catholic schools has diminished over the years but the Catholic values they worked so hard to impart are still vibrant in the committed ranks of incredible lay women and men administrators, teachers and staffs who have generously accepted the call to serve in our Catholic schools and classrooms. They truly deserve our gratitude and support day in and day out.

When a child is baptized a Catholic, the baptismal ritual states that “parents are the first teachers in the ways of faith.”  Building upon that sacramental assertion and parental responsibility, the Catechism of the Catholic Church rightfully explains that “parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children” (CCC, 2223).  

Sending a child to Catholic school is not a surrendering of that “first responsibility.” No, it is rather the beginning of a deep and abiding partnership of faith and moral formation between parents and the Catholic school teachers to whom they entrust their most precious gift. Faith, trust and sacrifice are words which characterize that relationship and the work of our Catholic schools -- especially now with  parents’ ever tightening resources --and are what makes Catholic education possible when other options are available.

Catholics are all “stakeholders” in this tremendously important enterprise of building a Catholic school community of faith and relying on that faith throughout our lives.

Religious instruction makes a genuine difference in the educational experience of primary and secondary Catholic school students, not only in the strengthening and deepening of the Catholic faith, but also in the approach our Catholic schools take toward instruction in all other subjects. 

Research and data readily back that assertion up. Catholic schools strive for and achieve general academic excellence while at the same time enhancing their students’ experience of prayer, respect and concern for peers and development of moral character and good citizenship.

In the agenda-driven times in which we live, the general educational landscape and curriculum have been affected by the insertion and advocacy of opinions and perspectives that can be difficult to counter. 

While Catholic schools bravely try to resist such impulses, the broader academic society has given them freer reign.  Catholic schools give parents and families a choice that dares to be different. It is not an easy effort. But it is worth considering when choosing a school. The choice becomes clearer every day.

Society benefits from good public schools and their dedicated teachers, no question and no criticism here. Two of my brothers attended public high schools and they were no worse for the wear. But society also benefits from the difference that good Catholic schools and their committed Catholic school teachers have to offer.   

So, as summer wanes and our children board their school buses to head “back to school,” let’s all strive to provide them with the very best education possible. That’s a worthy and noble goal we all can share.

President John F. Kennedy once declared, “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” True and wise words! Permit me, however, to make a slight change and say, children are not only the world’s “best hope for the future” but also, the world’s best hope for the present!

 

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