Every year Catholic Schools Week presents an opportunity to celebrate our Catholic schools. This year has been no different, as the schools across the Diocese of Nashville joined their counterparts around the country in shining a spotlight on our students, our dedicated teachers and staff, our parents who sacrifice to send their children to a Catholic school, and our communities who support the schools and their mission.
A visit to one of the schools in our diocese during the week of Jan. 30 through Feb. 5, in addition to the ever-present attention to academic excellence, would have found a variety of activities – magic shows, games, expressions of appreciation, inspiring talks by members of the community, service projects, and prayer, prayer and more prayer.
The theme for Catholic Schools Week this year was “Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service.” We see those traits every day in the 16 diocesan and parochial and three independent Catholic schools in the diocese.
Academic excellence has long been a hallmark of Catholic schools, and the commitment to maintain and enhance the quality of education provided to students endures.
As important as rigorous academics are, the mission of Catholic schools encompasses a much wider vista. Catholic schools are dedicated to educating and forming the whole person, centered on Jesus Christ and designed to cultivate wisdom and virtue, which leads to human flourishing.
Students must not only be good at math and history and all the other academic subjects, but they must learn the importance of being a good citizen who works for the common good. They must learn the importance of shining the Light of Christ to the world through their words and deeds. They must learn to reach out to those in need. And they must learn, in the words of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “how to live well now so as to be able to live with God for all eternity.”
During the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges for teachers, students and families. But the schools in our diocese have responded with resilience and determination to continue providing the kind of Catholic education families want and students need to prepare them for the future.
And the people of the diocese are responding to those efforts. Nationally, Catholic school enrollment is falling. An article in America magazine said Catholic school enrollment nationally fell 8.1 percent between 2020 and 2021 and is at its lowest point in 50 years.
But the Diocese of Nashville is bucking that trend. Catholic schools in the diocese opened the current school year with an increase in enrollment of more than 9 percent. There are reasons to believe that growth will continue in the years to come, not only from the existing schools but with the plans for a new school in Nolensville.
If the Catholic schools in the diocese are to continue to grow and to educate and form the future leaders of the Church, they need our support.
In their 2005 document “Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millenium,” the U.S. bishops reminded us that it is the responsibility of the entire Catholic community – bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity – to continue to strive toward the goal of making our Catholic elementary and secondary schools available, accessible and affordable for all who seek a Catholic education.
The people of the diocese have an opportunity to do that by supporting the Advancement of Catholic Education endowment, which provides funds for tuition assistance and improvements at the diocese’s Catholic schools. Additionally, one of the aims of the ongoing Legacy of Faith, Hope and Love campaign is to grow the ACE endowment. The goal of the campaign is to raise $50 million to build endowments that will fund a wide range of ministries far into the future, and 40 percent of the money raised is earmarked for the ACE endowment for Catholic schools.
The campaign has been divided into three waves, with a different group of churches in the diocese participating in each wave. The first wave is wrapping up and the second is scheduled to start this spring. When the campaign comes to your church, please consider how your gift can help Catholic schools and a host of other ministries and make our diocese remain vibrant and growing for decades to come.
The Church has long recognized the importance of its schools. As the bishops said in 2005: “Catholic schools afford the fullest and best opportunity to realize the fourfold purpose of Christian education, namely to provide an atmosphere in which the Gospel message is proclaimed, community in Christ is experienced, service to our sisters and brothers is the norm, and thanksgiving and worship of our God is cultivated.”