Rayanne Bennett
Catholic News Service

As Catholics around the nation are invited to celebrate Catholic Schools Week Jan. 28-Feb. 3, much is said and written about why these schools are important, and the many positive ways that they impact their students, the Catholic community overall and even the society at large.

As it does every year at this time, The Monitor salutes Catholic schools and all that they accomplish in support of their unique mission to prepare students academically, while they pass on the faith to the next generation. But this year, we did something new. We dedicated part of this coverage to stories about some of the individuals and communities whom we have rightly described as “Champions of Catholic Schools.”

The priests and parish communities who are the subjects of these stories show us all how to live out our responsibility to Catholic schools. They are but a few examples of those across the diocese who do the right thing by supporting their own schools, or the schools in their area.

Thankfully, there are priests in this diocese willing to shoulder the responsibility of operating Catholic schools in conjunction with their parishes. These are priests who:

  • have said “yes” to what is asked of them
  • patiently and prudently work through financial concerns
  • offer Catholic students and their families a place of community and security, where they can grow in their faith.

Despite the fact that some of these priests have sizable parishes, or multiple worship sites, or demanding schedules because there aren’t enough priests to go around, they manage to visit their schools frequently and talk to the students, celebrate school Masses regularly, hear confessions, help prepare sacramental candidates, bless classrooms, and help out with fundraisers by serving the spaghetti or climbing atop a dunk tank.

St. Clare of Assisi Parish supports Catholic education through its social media and constant willingness to be a bus stop for Bourgade Catholic High School students who live in the area.

And then there are pastors of parishes that do not sponsor schools, but are purposeful in doing their part to help the Catholic schools in their area. Despite the myriad competing demands on parish funds, these pastors make it a priority in their faith communities to support the diocese’s co-sponsorship program which funds tuition assistance for eligible students.

But as wonderfully supportive as these communities are, and as committed as these priests have been to the mission of Catholic education, there simply are not enough of them. Just as challenges to healthy Catholic schools increase with each passing year, so too must the number of priests and parishes who are willing to champion them. That means all parishes — those that are wealthy and those who are struggling. That means parishes where the religious education program is vibrant and growing, and parishes made up of mostly retirees and few children. That especially includes parishes that are struggling to keep their schools afloat. That means your parish, and yes, that means you. Everyone is needed for this cause.

Exactly what does it mean to be a champion of Catholic schools? It means doing what you can from where you stand.

We need:

  • all of our pastors to enthusiastically embrace the mission of Catholic education
  • pastors of sending parishes to visit their area schools occasionally and spend some time there; we need the schools to invite them, and keep inviting them if at first they decline.
  • every parish bulletin to have some announcement or representation of the local or area Catholic schools — reporting on events they are having, fundraisers they are holding, wish lists they have built and a call for volunteers when needed
  • students in their Catholic school uniforms getting up to talk at Masses, or offering the Scripture readings, or serving breakfast afterward.
  • every parishioner without a resident school to recognize that they are still part of this essential mission of the church and their support of co-sponsorship — through their parish’s assessment — is critical. The reality is that some parishes are not paying this assessment, reporting that they have financial difficulties. A parish can’t give what it doesn’t have. Nor can a diocese continue to subsidize schools that aren’t viable. But consider this … if every parish in the Diocese of Trenton without their own schools paid co-sponsorship fees, there would be $2.9 million available to help students attend Catholic school.

And so, we’re looking for more champions — individuals and parish communities who are not content to allow the Catholic footprint to shrink as our schools experience decline.

We are looking for priests and church leaders who see the evangelizing potential of every Catholic school, including and especially those who serve significant non-Catholic populations, where conversions happen every year!

What does it take to be a champion for Catholic schools?

  • attend open houses in your area schools
  • consider sending your children or grandchildren there, or advocate for the school in discussions with friends or family
  • find out what they need and see if you can help
  • if you don’t see a representation of Catholic schools in your parish, ask why that is
  • affirm your priests who go the extra mile to be involved in your local school
  • make a direct donation to tuition assistance funding

Do you have what it takes to be a champion? The future of our schools depends on it.

This commentary first appeared in the Jan. 25 issue of The Monitor, newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey. Rayanne Bennett is the associate publisher and the diocese’s executive director of communications and media. The views or positions presented in this or any guest editorial are those of the individual publication and do not necessarily represent the views of Catholic News Service or of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.