A Message from the Bishop – Catholic schools and Catholic identity

A Message from the Bishop – Catholic schools and Catholic identity
Bishop Dennis Sullivan speaks to students in Holy Name Church during a visit to Holy Name School, Camden, on Sept. 8. Photo by James A. McBride

Bishop Dennis Sullivan speaks to students in Holy Name Church during a visit to Holy Name School, Camden, on Sept. 8.
Photo by James A. McBride

With schools opening across the Diocese, I had the opportunity to visit two of our grammar schools and two of our diocesan high schools. The purpose of my visits is to pray with the students, teachers and administrators and ask God’s blessings on them at the beginning of the 2016-2017 academic year.

Praying with children and with teenagers makes for a very powerful experience. In a Catholic school, both in the classroom and on the athletic field, the student is not only able to pray but encouraged to pray. In public schools this kind of open prayer is not permitted nor is reference to God allowed. Whereas, in a Catholic school our faith and culture are infused into each area of the curriculum and into the other activities sponsored by the school. In this way the students can make the correlation between the Gospel and its values, the Church and her teachings, and their lives.

Catholic education provides an education of the whole student — mind, body and soul. In addition to academic excellence, faith based formation in the Catholic tradition is provided. Catholic education is a ministry of the Catholic Church whose teachings, doctrines and philosophy of education inform, shape and direct the school.

At the heart of our schools is Catholic identity, which is evident in the lessons taught; visible in the art and decorations on the walls; and practiced by all involved in the school. The profession of faith (the Creed of the Church) and adherence to Church teaching (Catholic doctrine) are essential to the Catholic identity and mission of the school. The real strength of a Catholic school resides in the Catholic faith that surrounds every aspect of our schools. This is coupled with academic excellence.

Catholic education is a shared experience. When we are surrounded by likeminded, good hearted, passionate and faithful people then the faith experience can be most powerful. It is good to know that we are not alone and that there is a worldwide faith community with 2,000 years of history and tradition supporting us, loving us, guiding us and forming us.

There are times when being Catholic is not easy; it is a challenge. It is often at odds with contemporary culture. Our secular world suggests that what is right is what feels good and even what is trendy. However, we have standards of morality and teachings that are more than sentiments and what is popular at the moment. These guide our living. In our schools, students learn these standards and teachings.

Additionally, the power of public and private prayer provides for our students an inner strength that is derived from worshipping God and from learning the unfiltered message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the Catholic Church.

My visits to our schools always reaffirm for me the tangible benefits of Catholic education, which form and transform our students. Families need to be encouraged to consider a Catholic school for their children. Yes, a sacrifice is involved, but it is a sacrifice that results in the full development of a child, that no other schooling option can provide.

May God bless our students, faculties, personnel and administrators as they grow closer to Christ and His Church this school year.