By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The Annual national celebration of Catholic School Week begins this weekend, and will continue Monday through Friday with a variety of creative, meaningful and spirited activities in each of our schools. Catholic School education in the Diocese of Jackson (The Diocese of Natchez at the time) began in the Cathedral parish in Natchez in 1847, and has continued uninterruptedly to the present. The Catholic population has always been a small proportion of the State of Mississippi’s population but our commitment to education has been a light shining in the darkness for many in every generation since the mid-19th century, a large percentage not of the Catholic faith. Our Catholic schools are at the heart of our diocesan mission, originating with the mandate of the Lord Jesus to make disciples of all nations, teaching them everything I have commanded you. I take this opportunity to thank all who collaborate together to promote the mission of Catholic education in our diocese to this very day: families, teachers, administrators, and school support staff, the diocesan office, pastors and parish leadership, alumni, benefactors, and parishioners in the pew, and those who no longer live in our diocese who continue to support us with prayer and generosity. It is a continual labor of love to sustain and develop our schools in each generation as we strive for excellence. It is a joy for me to visit our schools, and the opportunity to do so will abound during the week ahead. I have a life long relationship with Catholic education. For many years I taught in our schools in the Diocese of Scranton, and for many more years before priesthood, from Kindergarten (no pre-k at the that time) through doctoral studies, I was a beneficiary of Catholic School education.
Each of our schools has a distinctive identity, and yet all embrace the seamless mission that is the reason for their existence. On each school’s website there is, in one form or another, a purpose, mission, or vision statement which expresses its identity and goals. For my edification and yours, I have randomly selected eight of these statements that speak eloquently to this proud tradition in our diocese.
• To support the spiritual, intellectual, aesthetic, emotional, social, and physical growth of each member of the community.
• Dedicated to preparing students to be servant leaders through academic excellence, authentic faith formation, and student life opportunities within a Christ-centered, caring and safe learning environment.
• Committed to academic excellence and the vaues taught by Jesus Christ, striving to equip young people for the world while preparing them for Heaven.
• Seeks academic excellence and strives to form the minds, hearts, and souls of its students in the likeness of Christ.
• Provides a faith based Catholic education that balances academics with character building, enriching lives and personal relationships with Jesus Christ.
• To teach the whole child in a Christ-centered environment, by building character, fostering community, and creating life-long learners.
• Exists for the dual purpose of faith formation, and quality education for all children, with the ideals of the Heart of Christ.
• To provide a loving, Christ-centered environment with a quality academic education rooted in the development of character, compassion and Gospel values.
I invite you the next time you enjoy a snow day when all outdoor responsibilities and appointments are delayed or canceled to go online and match up the above statements with their respective schools. The eight represent less than half of our Catholic high schools, elementary Schools, and early childhood learning centers. You can clearly see that they strive to embrace the Gospel way of life and excellent academic formation in the present moment, in order to prepare students for their future, and ultimately for their citizenship in heaven. And yes, each school offers a range of age appropriate athletic, service, and cultural opportunities that are essential in the development of mind, body and spirit.
The Catholic School theme for 2016-2017 is FAMILY, an acronym that signifies: faith, academics, mercy, integrity, love,and you. There is much to ponder and celebrate with FAMILY and it is especially noteworthy in light of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, and the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, Amoris Latitiae, or in English, the Joy of Love (in the family).
This year at the outset of Catholic School’s Week I will be gathering with priests and deacons, Lay Ecclesial Ministers and several of our diocesan leadership team to begin the implementation of the diocesan pastoral plan. We are proud to affirm that our renewed Vision statement is daily lived out in our schools: to serve others, to embrace diversity, to inspire disciples. As younger and older children of God, may we all continue to grow as life long intentional disciples, eager to grow in wisdom, knowledge, and grace.