By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
This week’s publication of the Mississippi Catholic puts the spotlight on the living tradition of Catholic schools within in the Diocese of Jackson. This vital arm of the Catholic Church’s mission to make disciples of all of the nations has a rich history in Mississippi as has been pointed out and celebrated countless times in this paper. Next week is “Catholic Schools Week” and there will be a myriad of activities in each of our schools that manifest the pride of each school in their uniqueness, as well as the communion they share with one another and with God as educational faith communities in the Body of Christ, the Church.
During the autumn months of last year I had the opportunity to celebrate the Mass in each of our elementary and High School communities and it was a joyful and meaningful experience for me to enter into the heart and mind of each of them, including Christ the King and Holy Family, St. Elizabeth, and St. Francis, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Joseph, St. Francis Xavier and St. Aloysius, Cathedral High School and Elementary, St. Anthony and St. Joseph, St. Richard and Thea Bowman, St. Patrick and Annunciation. (I have omitted the locations so that you can connect the schools with their towns and cities, a geographical excursion around the diocese.)
Times have changed and the Diocese of Jackson has fewer Catholic Schools then it once had, but the commitment of families, educators, and diocese remains strong and we continue to sacrifice in order that our schools may continue to flourish in contemporary society. Indeed, there are many challenges that families and school communities face in our world that experiences so much upheaval and instability.
In the 2007 document published by the Congregation of Catholic Education in Rome Educating together in Catholic Schools we read of the enormous challenges in the introduction: “The unexpected and often contradictory evolution of our age gives rise to educational challenges…These challenges emerge from the social, cultural, and religious complexity in which young people are actually growing up…There is a widespread lack of interest for the fundamental truths of human life. Likewise, individualism, moral relativism and materialism permeate above all rich and developed societies…Add to that rapid structural changes, globalization and the application of new technologies in the field of information that profoundly affect daily life and formation…
In a society that is at once global and diversified, local and planetary, young people find themselves faced with different proposals of values, or lack thereof… There are also the difficulties that arise from family instability, hardship and poverty… All of this exposes our young people to the danger of ‘being tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine’ (Eph 4,14).
With this picture of the social and cultural milieu all school communities are acutely challenged to accomplish their mission to educate with purpose and promise. Yet, our Catholic School communities have considerable resources to fulfill the mission of educating the whole person, in knowledge and wisdom, faith and grace.
In the United States and the Diocese of Jackson we carry forward a tradition and a legacy that is well over 150 years old. Our schools are an extension of our diocese, our parishes and our families; therefore parents, teachers, administrators, laity and religious, priests and bishop, are all part of our school communities, either directly or in directly, on site or present in spirit, laboring to nurture our school communities that seek to infuse the sacred into all academic disciplines, social and athletic events.
The mission of our Catholic School educators is a noble vocation, but it can also be daunting in light of the world in which we live. The document cited above encourages a vision that the world cannot give. “The Catholic School educator’s vocation is a journey of permanent formation which demands a ready and constant ability for renewal and adaptation, and not just about professional updating in the strict sense. The synthesis between faith, culture, and life is reached by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge through the subjects taught in the light of the Gospel, and in the growth of Christian virtues.”
“Catholic educators need a ‘formation of the heart’. They need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ that awakens their love and opens their spirits to others so that their educational commitment flows from their faith, a faith that becomes active through love. In fact care for instruction means loving.”
When we take a minute to think about this mission and vocation we know that it is only by the grace of God that it can be achieved in its fullness. It is rooted in the promise of the Lord Jesus to be with us until the end of time.
As Catholic Schools Week dawns we give thanks to our educators who care to instruct and administrate with great love, to the support staff of each school, to our parents who sacrifice to support their children’s education, to our parishioners whose generosity is directed in part to the support of our schools, to our pastors and pastoral ministers who provide the spiritual guidance that sustains parish and school communities, and to so many who have gone before upon whose shoulders of sacrifice and commitment we continue to stand today.
Have a spirited Catholic Schools Week, and may the Lord who has begun the good work in you continue to bring it to fulfillment.
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz