Years ago, the homilist for my children’s Catholic school quoted a playful little rhyme sometimes attributed to St. Jerome:
“Good, better, best, never let it rest, ‘til your good gets better and your better gets best.”
The students took to it immediately. It became a popular hopscotch ditty on the playground, parents relayed that children were reciting it at the dinner table, and the cheerleaders even made it into one of their cheers. I think the reason why they related to it so well was not only due to its natural charm but the truth it conveyed about their learning environment and its commitment to the pursuit of excellence in every aspect of their lives, which we often call educating the “total child.”
This intentional and systematic commitment to excellence is one of the hallmarks of Catholic school education, and the resulting benefits it provides to God and country is great cause for celebration.
Pope Benedict XVI addressed this in his historic address on Catholic school education at Catholic University of America in April 2008, which I was honored to be present for. At the conclusion of his remarks, the Holy Father challenged us to do everything we can to support this critically important apostolate insisting that “… everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that [Catholic schools] are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.”
Each year since 1974, our nation has been giving honor to Catholic education in the form of a week-long celebration starting on the last Sunday of January.
Catholic Schools Week — Daily Themes
Jan. 27-Feb. 2
Jan. 27: Celebrating Your Parish
Jan. 28: Celebrating Your Community
Jan. 29: Celebrating Your Students
Jan. 30: Celebrating the Nation
10 a.m.: Mass at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, 6351 N. 27th Ave., Phoenix
12 p.m.: Rally at Arizona State Capitol House Lawn, 1700 W. Washington St., Phoenix
Jan. 31: Celebrating Vocations
Feb. 1: Celebrating Faculty, Staff and Volunteers
Feb. 2: Celebrating Families
Within the Diocese of Phoenix, we celebrate six Catholic high schools, 29 elementary schools, 29 preschools, and two private Catholic schools, all located in nearly every part of the Valley and other parts of the diocese. While every Catholic school community is unique, each offers a rigorous curriculum while educating the total child — spirit, mind and body — in a loving, faith-filled environment, offering faith formation programing and rigorous college preparatory curricula that ensure their future success in the world.
There is a total K-12 enrollment of 14,848 students in diocesan schools. An exciting trend in our enrollment has been the increase in Hispanic students, increasing by 46.74 percent in our high schools and by 65.47 percent in our elementary schools over the past 10 years. Nationally, there are 1,835,376 students enrolled in 6,352 Catholic schools across the country. More national data
We also celebrate the 1,458 non-Catholic students benefiting from a Catholic school education (about 10 percent). Our schools respect the personal consciences of these students and their families. While this freedom is, of course, respected and deeply recognized by the Catholic Church, the school never relinquishes its own freedom to proclaim the Gospel and to offer a formation based on the teaching of the Catholic faith and the values to be found in Christian education. Non-Catholic students benefit from participating in all religious instruction and Catholic formation opportunities offered at our schools except for those intended only for Catholics (for example, reception of the sacraments).
Catholic schools also contribute to the common good, providing graduates with a respect for their patriotic responsibilities and giving them the tools necessary to lead successful, rewarding lives as contributing members of society.
Our schools are a gift to the nation in another way: as a significant savings to taxpayers. According to the data provided by the National Catholic Education Association, based on the average public school cost per pupil of $11,454, Catholic schools provide about $21 billion in savings each year to the nation.
Please join us in the celebration of Catholic Schools Week by visiting a Catholic school near you. You may want to visit the school’s website to learn more about what they are celebrating, or you can give them a call. If you do not know where your local Catholic school is located, please visit our Catholic Schools Office website at catholicschoolsphx.org.
Finally, please continue to pray for our Catholic schools and for their fidelity in nurturing the souls placed into their care and that they succeed in assisting parents developing in youth the tools, temperaments and tenacity necessary to bring into the world a living, active and joy-filled faith.