Catholic Schools Week: Pray and Prepare for Looming Challenges to Catholic Education
Our faith commands Catholic parents to stand firm in their duty as the first and primary educators of their children.
When Pope Francis visited Chile and Peru in January 2018, a highlight of the tour was his address to Catholic university students and faculty at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in Santiago. “Catholic educational institutions,” he told them, “play a prophetic role in helping future generations tackle problems with an integrated, inclusive approach.” He encouraged the students to, in essence, “think big” — to enlighten contemporary culture by proposing a renewed humanism, one that eschews every form of reductionism.
Here in the United States, the fruits of a Catholic education have been well documented. Studies have shown that students who attend Catholic schools benefit from a challenging, high-quality academic experience in a nurturing environment, with an emphasis on Catholic values. Working together, Catholic school students learn self-discipline, respect for others and a sense of responsibility.
Each year during National Catholic Schools Week, celebrated this year on Jan. 31-Feb. 6, we pause to reflect on the benefits of a Catholic education. In each of the last 47 years, schools have observed the week with Masses, assemblies and other activities for students, families, parishioners and community members to celebrate and congratulate. This year, as the pandemic drags on and many public schools resort to online learning, more families are enrolling their children in Catholic schools to keep them in the classroom.
But some have expressed concern that the recently installed Biden administration threatens to end some of the freedoms that have marked Catholic education. Kari Beckman, founder and executive director of Regina Caeli Academy, spoke about the potential effects of a Biden presidency.
“There is certainly a lot to be concerned about,” she said, “with regard to President Biden's view of what a private education — whether it be religious or secular, at-home or institutional — really is. He has been vocal in his desire to control admissions to any private institution, refusing to recognize the need for these organizations to stay true to their belief and mission; rather, he wants them to compromise those things, all for the sake of ‘inclusion.’”
Beckman recalled that the Obama Administration had sought to prevent Catholic school principals and bishops from rightly dismissing teachers who were not living out their Catholic faith. That effort was thwarted by the Supreme Court’s landmark 9-0 ruling, in Hosanna-Tabor Church and School v. EEOC, which upheld the ministerial exception in cases where the employer is a religious group and the employer is one of the group’s ministers. Still, Beckman warned, as leaders and protectors of our Catholic faith, we must not be content to simply wait out four years.
Today, during Catholic Schools Week, we celebrate the fruit that our Catholic schools — both institutional and home-based — has brought forth. We pray that God will protect and bless the efforts of teachers, administrators and supporters who seek to provide for our children the best possible education, both secular and religious. And we resolve to stand firm, as our faith commands us to do, in our role as the first and primary educators of our children. We cannot let the government assume this responsibility, no matter what threats may loom.