Apostolic letter: Catholic schools are vehicles of evangelization

Bishop pens apostolic letter outlining the importance of Catholic schools today

Audrey Ochoa works on a word search on her first day back to school at St. John Bosco School in Ahwatukee on Aug., 18 2015. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted promulgated an apostolic letter on the role of Catholic schools in the New Evangelization on March 3. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

Evangelizing through Catholic Schools

CLICK HERE to read Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s apostolic letter in its entirety.

Catholic schools play an important role in the New Evangelization, wrote Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted in his new apostolic letter, Evangelizing through Catholic Schools, promulgated on March 3 of this year.

In his letter, the bishop identified five ways in which a Catholic school assists the Church in the mission of evangelization: by being a place of encounter; being a Spirit-filled community; imparting a Catholic worldview through its curriculum; helping students in becoming free; and sending them out as “missionary disciples to transform the culture.”

“Jesus Himself taught His disciples in the context of fraternity and friendship. In a world that is often trying to replace authentic friendship with superficial and technological connections, a Catholic school is a Spirit-filled community of young people that affirms their dignity in being made in God’s image and likeness,” Bishop Olmsted wrote. “This community of faith is built through the joint efforts of parents, teachers, administrators and students.”

The letter was promulgated on the feast of St. Katharine Drexel, foundress of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, known for establishing Catholic schools for Black and Native American children throughout the country, including the Southwest. She is also the patroness of the diocese’s Catholic Community Foundation, which administers the annual Christian Service Awards, a service-based scholarship for students to attend a Catholic high school. See who was awarded March 3.

Bishop Olmsted noted that rather than detract from a school’s curriculum, the inclusion of a Catholic worldview enhances it. “Science and math classes are taught with a posture of wonder towards the created world, knowing that God has imbued all creation with intelligibility,” he wrote as an example. He also pointed out that students are exposed to the “best of Western Civilization — its literature, poetry, art, architecture, etc. — as it was taken up and perfected through the act of faith.”

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted gives a student a fist pump during the 75th anniversary and dedication of new classrooms at Queen of Peace Catholic School in this Sept. 19, 2015 file photo. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

MaryBeth Mueller, superintendent of diocesan schools and director of the diocese’s Division of Evangelization and Education, expressed her excitement for the bishop’s apostolic letter.

“This letter demonstrates his passion and commitment to Catholic schools now and in the future,” said Mueller. “The mission of Catholic schools must be evangelization as the priority in the teaching mission of the Church.”

Fr. John Parks, the newly appointed Vicar of Evangelization for the diocese, said he is excited to see how it will be implemented in the diocese’s Catholic schools.

“This apostolic letter is a concise and compelling vision that will assist schools in their mission of evangelization,” said Fr. Parks, who currently serves as chaplain of Notre Dame Preparatory in Scottsdale.

“Evangelizing through Catholic Schools by Bishop Olmsted allows us once more to reflect on the great enterprise and good that is Catholic education,” he added. “I am hoping students, parents and faculty will be renewed and strengthened by their reading of this apostolic letter.”

The Church is missionary by its very nature, the bishop wrote. After Catholic school students encounter Jesus Christ and have been properly formed, they are sent into the world as ambassadors of His truth and love.

“A mark of a truly Catholic school is the fruit that is borne in the lives of its graduates,” Bishop Olmsted wrote. “That fruit is to be shown in the missionary activity of its graduates, called and sent by Jesus to be salt and light in the culture around them, knowing that people and cultures die without Christ.”