“They maybe won’t remember much of what you taught them, but they will remember how you made them feel.” A wise and experienced teacher told me that early in my priestly ministry. I suppose I was commenting on the challenge of trying to distill years of theological training into understandable terms for young minds. Gently, this gentleman reminded me that education is somewhat about communicating knowledge, but far more about forming persons and relationships that show God’s love and care. Catholic schools form the largest network of private schools in the United States. While statistics lag a bit, total Catholic elementary/middle and high school enrollment is over 1.8 million students. Over 5,000 elementary/middle schools educate over 1.3 million of that total, with 1,200 high schools forming another 560,000. There are also Catholic universities, Catholic medical and law and business schools, and more recently, efforts to create
Catholic trade schools, connecting the dignity of manual labor and the trades to the Catholic worldview. You can find more quantified information online – how many teachers, support staff, administrators, board members, donors; average tuition, cost-per-pupil, enrollment trends, endowments and benefactors, and much more. But while the numbers are interesting and relevant, they can only scratch the surface of what Catholic education contributes to our communities, Church, and world. And even that contribution is a small reflection of the true purpose and genius of Catholic education: to form each person into a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ, to ground a life-long relationship with God, to teach both human and divine wisdom that not only informs the mind but shapes the soul. We are all life-long learners, but we build upon the foundations of our earliest experiences.
Catholic schools seek to root those foundations deeply in faith, excellence, and service. We honor our teachers, principals, staff members, specialists, boards and committee members. We thank our donors and those who show their stewardship in time and talent invested in our students. We are so grateful to our families who have entrusted their children to our care and partner with us in the work of education – especially in these last months with all the adaptations and struggles of distance and hybrid learning models. We thank all those who pray for the success of this mission of the Church, near and far, and our alumni who enrich their communities with the fruits of their Catholic school years. And, we honor our students; they are the heart of what we do and who we are. While times and circumstances bring each era’s particular challenges, we have exactly the same resources the founders of our schools did: God’s love, divine grace, the communion of the Church, the help of the Holy Spirit. With these, we live together in faith, strive for excellence, and offer our service to those we are sent to help in today’s unsettled world. They maybe won’t remember much what we taught them, but they will remember how we made them feel.