The Enduring Values of Catholic School Education.

Bishop Matthew Clark’s recent announcement of the reversion of Catholic elementary schools to local parishes marks a return to the roots of Catholic School education. Indeed, St. Joseph’s Parish opened Rochester's first Catholic school in 1836, a full 32 years before the Diocese itself was established.

This current transition has heightened interest in Catholic schools. As school principal, parish priest, and guardians of the tradition of Catholic education, we are sometimes asked “Why ‘Catholic’ schools? Why now?”

The short answer is that a Catholic faith-based education continues to meet important needs.

For Catholic families, school is a natural extension of a church community joined together to live the message of God’s love as taught by His Son Jesus.

Catholic schools integrate important spiritual and moral components with the New York State curriculum, which is a great attraction for non-catholic families as well. From preschool classes through college, lessons are lived that model how to be a responsible, contributing member of society.

This spiritual element also enhances the learning experience. While the best teachers everywhere teach with a sense of mission, what makes Catholic schools different is what anchors our mission – Christ’s teachings. Our teachers accept traditionally lower compensation levels for equal professional qualifications because of their willingness to assume the role of Jesus’ present-day Disciples.

What this means is that even as Catholic faculties challenge students to achieve their full academic excellence, we lift them up with God’s love made visible by their teachers’ caring for the individual and passion for teaching.

This combination of spiritual and secular energy makes an attractive package. According to the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA), approximately 12 percent of the nation’s 7000 Catholic schools have a waiting list for admissions.

In a January 2011 NCEA release, Marie Powell, executive director of the Secretariat of Catholic Education reported, “This year nearly 30 percent of the nation’s 2.1 million Catholic school students come from minority populations. Enrollment of students who are not Catholic has increased to 14.5 percent, an indication that many diverse families seek the benefits of a quality education with moral underpinnings.”

Here at Holy Cross, we are heartened by the Diocese-wide return to parish-based schools. For over 100 years, Catholic school has been part of our church’s tradition, one we are eager to continue. We plan to re-integrate elementary education with other community programs, including preschool, CYO, scouts, athletics and family activities. We will also reach out to suburban and City neighborhoods with innovative programs designed to make the gift of Catholic education more easily available to the greater community.

To put things in perspective, Rochester’s transition is just the latest chapter in a legacy dating back to 1606 when the first Catholic school in America was founded in St. Augustine. We firmly believe that Catholic schools will endure, answering society’s call for a positive spiritual contribution, sustained by faith and God’s love.