Students from Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Glendale walk in a line during the first day of classes Aug. 6. (John Bering/CATHOLIC SUN)

Catholic Schools begin new academic year

Welcome to a new school year! I am proud to report that our Catholic schools are ready, willing and able to embrace the new academic school year.

Harry A. Plummer took the helm of the Catholic Schools Office this summer as the new superintendent. Plummer has served in Catholic education in dioceses across the country for most of his career and has always served the Church. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

As many of my former Catholic school students will confirm, the beginning of the school year almost always guaranteed that I would share an old rhyme with them: “Good, better, best, never let it rest, ‘til your good gets better, and your better gets best.” It’s quite catchy, and children have used it over the years for everything from cheerleading chants to jump rope to skipping songs.

Its power, of course, lies not only in snappy alliteration but in the message it conveys, a message profoundly related to Catholic school education: encouraging students in the pursuit of excellence. Semper excelsius — always higher — is the Latin expression sometimes used to explain this pursuit, and this motto is indelibly imprinted on the soul of all authentically Catholic schools.

The Second Vatican Council’s document on Christian education describes a distinguishing characteristic of a Catholic school’s pursuit of excellence in this way: “The Catholic school pursues cultural goals and the natural development of youth to the same degree as any other school. What makes the Catholic school distinctive is its attempt to generate a community climate in the school that is permeated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and love … it tries to relate all of human culture to the good news of salvation so that the light of faith will illumine everything that the students will gradually come to learn about the world, about life and about the human person” (“Gravissimum educationis,” 8).

Loreto Sister Raphael Quinn, principal of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral School, receives a hug from a student on the first day of school Aug. 7. (John Bering/CATHOLIC SUN)

In seeking to be faithful to this humbling, tremendous calling, our schools find no room for mediocrity, but as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminded youth, “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” It is that pursuit of greatness which our schools seek to foster in students, partnering with their parents to constantly bring them from good, to better, to best.

So, as our Catholic preschool, elementary and high schools — all 65 of them — joyfully open their doors to a new school year, please offer thanks to God and petitions to Our Lady for the safety and success of all their academic and formative efforts in the service of the nearly 15,000 children placed into their care. It’s a noble challenge, but one our Catholic school educators masterfully embrace — firm in faith, joyful in hope and active in charity.