We are at a new moment for Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Camden, one shared by the Church here in the United States and throughout the world. This October we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum Educationis. This document states that “the Church’s role is especially evident in the Catholic School.” Catholic schools are a vital ministry of the Church and I would add a vital ministry for every parish in this diocese. The bishops of the United States in the 19th century, at the Council of Baltimore, decided that a parish school should be connected with each parish. In this diocese, the regional schools belong to each parish in a particular area. I expect each parish in the region to not only support the school financially but also to encourage enrollment in their regional school. Each parish needs to appreciate the value of its Catholic school and to take an active ownership of the regional Catholic school. I commend those parishes which support a stand alone parish school and I especially recognize the sacrifices of the parishioners.
In my two years as Bishop of Camden, I have visited many of our schools for the opening of schools in September; for pastoral visits and Masses during Catholic Schools Week; and for devotions to Our Blessed Mother during the month of May. I have officiated at the baccalaureate celebrations and the graduation ceremonies for each of our diocesan high schools. At most of these schools, not only I but other visitors, students and parents, teachers and administrators alike are greeted with a sign announcing to all, “Be it known to all who enter here that CHRIST is the reason for this school. He is the unseen but ever present teacher in its classes. He is the model of its faculty and the inspiration of its students” (author unknown).
While not perfect in their endeavors to be Christ (actually who is or what church institution is?), I do find that in our schools where participation in the Sacred Liturgy is reverent, respectful and a regular part of the school’s calendar, the Catholic identity of the school is evident. These celebrations assist the school community to be a place where the Gospel message of Jesus Christ is not only proclaimed, but lived out in the loving, and caring interactions between and among faculty, staff, students and families. The message of Jesus to do for the least of our brothers and sisters is also so alive in the way that our schools participate in the faith-FULL Food Drive of the Diocese of Camden and other collections on behalf of the poor that take place during the year. I am so proud of the 250 plus students from our Catholic High Schools who participated in the March for Life last week in Washington, D.C. The effort of the students, the administration and the priest Directors of Catholic Identity to organize and support the March are a testament to the value that our schools place on the “least of our brothers and sisters,” the unborn child. Service is a hallmark of a Catholic School.
I am convinced that now more than ever that Catholic schools provide the best opportunity for the full integration of human formation, the physical, intellectual and spiritual development of the young person that is the root of Catholic education. We cannot rest and presume that this great treasure of the Church will continue without hard work. It is a treasure worth the sacrifices made. For this reason I have established the Bishop’s Commission on Schools to examine our present structures and put in place structures that will strengthen and secure our schools for the twenty-first century.
I am committed to do what I can to support the Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Camden. I call on all of our pastors, priests, deacons, religious and our faithful people to commit to this same mission. We need parents willing to continue to make the sacrifices to send their children to Catholic schools. We need parishioners willing to support their parish schools. We need alums to financially assist us with this ministry. And, we need to mobilize the voting population of New Jersey to support legislation that recognizes the benefit that Catholic Schools give to children and to the state by providing a high quality education to the citizens of this state and this nation.