Tuesday, September 6, 2011

From Cardinal Wuerl: "Catholic Education - Forming Hearts and Minds in the Faith"

September 6, 2011

Dear Friends,

Now that Labor Day has come and gone and summer has officially ended, we focus our attention on our schools, where students and their teachers have been hard at work since the waning days of August. As a new school year begins, everyone associated with our Catholic schools and religious education programs undergoes a renewed commitment to educating young minds and hearts in the faith. We look ahead to the promise of this new academic year with a strong sense of how far we’ve come.

In September of 2008, the pastoral letter Catholic Education: Looking to the Future with Confidence was issued. The letter reminded us all of the importance of teaching the faith through our schools and parishes. Catholic schools must have a strong Catholic identity, excellent academics and to the best of our ability be affordable and accessible. After extensive consultation, comprehensive school policies were developed and implemented ensuring that excellent Catholic school education will be available well into the future. In addition, a new religion curriculum was developed and is now being used in all schools and parish religious education programs.

The Church has the task of proclaiming the kingdom of God among us. We do this by living the New Evangelization, manifesting Christ’s kingdom on earth, and teaching the faith to future generations. Catholic schools are central to this mission, and to ensure that all families have an opportunity to attend our schools, the Archdiocese of Washington provides tuition assistance to families with need. This year thanks to the generosity of so many we have again awarded over five million dollars in tuition assistance, a six-fold increase in the past four years.

The investment over the years is clearly paying off. We have 98 Catholic schools educating just over 28,000 students and an additional 26,000 children in parish religious education programs. It would take volumes to tell the story of our success. However, one wonderful example is the Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School, our newest high school. The students help “earn” their tuition through a creative work-study program in which they get real world experience to support their first-rate classroom learning. This past May every student in the first-ever graduating class was accepted to college. Many of our schools and faculty have been nationally recognized. Saint John the Baptist School in Silver Spring is our newest Blue Ribbon School, and principal Sheila Martinez of Our Lady of Victory School was awarded The Washington Post’s Distinguished Educational Leadership Award.

Catholic education develops the whole person — mind, body and spirit. This vision of the human person is why our kids succeed. We are especially glad that we are able to offer a Catholic education even to some of the neediest students in the area because of the recently enacted SOAR Act reauthorizing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). The SOAR Act gives money to D.C. public and charter schools while providing others a chance also to attend non-Catholic or Catholic independent schools.

Perhaps the story of Mark, a recent graduate of Archbishop Carroll High School, is a better way of explaining the difference the SOAR Act really makes in people’s lives. The summer before his 8th grade year, Mark transferred from a public school to one of our parish schools. The transition was challenging because of the higher academic expectations, but he says that at Holy Redeemer and at Archbishop Carroll he was able to surround himself with more positive people, supportive teachers and a better educational environment. An Honors student at Archbishop Carroll, Mark was accepted at three colleges and plans to major in accounting. A modest young man, Mark played varsity basketball, volunteered at Thrive DC, tutored in the Perry School aftercare program, and received several awards during his time at Carroll — including the John Carroll Medal for best all-around student in the senior class. Without the Opportunity Scholarship Program, this might not have been Mark’s story.

With a goal of future viability, over 15 schools from across the archdiocese engaged in formal planning and consultation last year with great involvement on the part of parents and parishioners. Each year more and more schools are gathering as a community to work together to address their challenges, whatever they might be, and overcome them and move forward to a bright future. All schools that opened last year have opened this year. Please pray for the success of all our schools, especially those working so hard to overcome financial and enrollment challenges.

Since so many of our young people attend parish-based religious education programs, I am very proud that over 1,000 catechists and school teachers of religion have participated in the “Hearts Aflame” training courses to prepare them to use our new elementary-age religion curriculum, “Forming Disciples for The New Evangelization.” Since it is our duty as Catholics to share the Gospel, I hope many of you will consider serving as a catechist for your parish. I promise you will not regret this decision.

In closing I ask for your prayers for all Catholic educators and students, both in our schools and religious education programs, as together we work to teach the faith that comes to us from the Apostles.

With prayerful best wishes, I am

Faithfully in Christ,

Donald Cardinal Wuerl
Archbishop of Washington

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