Each January, Catholic schools across the nation come together for a week-long celebration of Catholic education. As I began preparing for this year’s Catholic Schools Week liturgies, I found myself struck by Sunday’s Gospel where we find Christ calling his disciples. While I’ve read the passage in Matthew’s fourth chapter many times, I heard it for the first time through my young daughter’s voice.
For the past couple months, she’s been asking for stories before bed, so I started by sharing anecdotes from when I was a child – hiking the Appalachian Trail with my dad, diving into art with my mom, learning to play the saxophone (which sounds remarkably like a buzz saw in the first few weeks). Soon, though, my daughter began requesting more recent stories. It was in the middle of one of these when she suddenly asked, “Why did you want to be a Catholic school teacher?” In the moment, I admittedly gave her a brief response, but as I was rereading Matthew’s Gospel, I heard her voice echo in Christ’s call, “Come after me,” and I began reflecting more deeply on my journey.
Serving in Catholic education wasn’t what I ever anticipated as a child. Growing up in a small town in Tennessee, I didn’t have the opportunity to attend a Catholic school until I reached college. Upon graduation, led by a deep commitment to our Church’s social teachings, I joined a two-year “service-through-teaching” program that placed me as a seventh-grade teacher in a Catholic elementary school in inner-city Los Angeles. It is there that I first experienced the unparalleled impact of Catholic education. I witnessed how Catholic schools have the immense ability to transform a child’s life, how–amid a societal culture of increasing isolation–Catholic schools affirm human dignity and embrace every child in a community of belonging. It is there that I first understood that I was called to dedicate my vocation to Catholic education, a call that has led me here.
God’s call to the ministry of Catholic education, however, is not unique to me. It has touched over a thousand educators and staff throughout our diocese. To all those serving in our schools, we are indebted to your willingness and commitment to answer this call each day. You are touching the very hearts of those you serve, nurturing communion with Christ and one another. For over 15,000 students within our diocese, you ensure that every child has a voice and that every child feels known and seen. You foster a love of learning, a deep sense of compassion, and a commitment to serving humanity and protecting God’s creation. You are giving our youth the lens not only to navigate the world but the ability to truly transform it. In this way, you are ensuring that Catholic schools are at the very heart of our Church and the future of our community. I sincerely thank you for being stewards of this vital ministry.
We are not, however, doing this work alone, and many outside traditional administrators, faculty, and staff are answering the call to support Catholic schools. Indeed, formation of children is such a central ministry, woven into the very fabric of our Church, that we’re all invited to this sacred mission – through the partnership of parents as primary educators, the guidance of pastors, the generosity of benefactors, the engagement of alums and parishioners, the prayers of the community, the encouragement of a new family to join a school, the donation of a scholarship to provide an opportunity to a child, the offering of time and talent. I extend my deep gratitude to the wider community for this immense impact on our Catholic schools.
Building on this work of all those supporting Catholic education today, we at the Department of Catholic Schools are also striving to respond to Christ’s call by endeavoring to transform education in our valley. We are fostering connections and networks across our schools, creating opportunities for leaders and educators to learn from the diverse experience and expertise of one another. We are strengthening our programs, opening our doors, and developing opportunities to support accessibility as we work to fulfil our mission to welcome, serve, and fully form all children. We are taking a critical look at our operations and growing them in a manner that meets not only the needs of our ministry today but the sustainability of this ministry for future generations.
As our nation celebrates Catholic Schools Week, I encourage everyone to reach out to one another to share your own stories of Catholic schools. And as we enter this new year, I invite us all to return to Matthew’s Gospel through the voice of a child and reflect on Christ’s apostolic invitation: How are we each called to support the mission of Catholic education?
Superintendent of Schools