Catholic Schools and the Year of Faith
A letter from the Superintendent of Catholic Schools to the faithful in the Diocese of Gaylord at the start of the 2012-13 school year
It is with great anticipation and excitement that I look to the start of the 2012-13 school year. I am encouraged by the efforts of so many people who have chosen to invest their money, time and energy in the parochial schools in the Diocese of Gaylord because they believe in the mission and efficacy of Catholic education.
The past few years have been economically challenging for Catholic schools throughout the nation and perhaps nowhere has this been more apparent than here in northern Michigan. However, I am pleased to report that all of our schools are up and running, marking the 11th straight year that this has been the case; a statistic that continues to buck the sad trend of school closures across the country. I am delighted as well to report that our diocese continues to maintain steady enrollment figures. Some of our schools are even posting substantial gains in enrollment, with one campus having more than doubled their students in just two years. Although economics continues to be the greatest obstacle for most families, there can be no question that the national spotlight on religious freedom is illuminating the value of faith as a necessary element in education.
The start of this school year will be remembered for both significant events as well as extraordinary circumstances. The year will be marked by the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, the beginning of the Year of Faith, as well as the continued debate concerning the HHS Mandate and all that it implies. It is with all of this in mind that I continue to be inspired and draw strength from the heroic example of generations past. The powerful witness of the early Jesuit missionaries, Fr. Marquette, Fr. Gabriel Richard, Venerable Bishop Baraga and countless religious sisters not only advanced the faith, but also had a positive impact on secular society as well. The local Church in Michigan can trace its roots to these great missionaries. Their schoolhouses and universities evangelized this region and introduced Catholicism to successive generations. However, with the Church under attack in this country as never before and with religious liberty literally hanging in the balance, I would argue that Catholic schools have never been more relevant or urgently needed than this present day.
Over 1500 years ago St. Hilary of Poitiers warned; "What can be more fraught with danger for the world than the rejection of Christ?" We are currently moving beyond civil discourse as regards the appropriate influence of faith and the natural moral law on the collective conscience of our young country and are rapidly moving toward (if we haven’t arrived already) a new social order; one in which the Church is not only marginalized but potentially silenced for its “antiquated and ignorant doctrines” that breed disunity and prejudice. There is an ever-widening schism between what our government promotes, tolerates, and teaches as the “common good” and what the Church upholds and defends. Schools are the battleground for the influence of the next generation and those schools that exclude faith as a necessary partner to reason become the ubiquitous purveyors of a future perilously adrift with no moral center.
Public schools in our nation cannot and will not profess the existence of Christ, of truth or wisdom, of both the visible and invisible, of both faith and reason, and therefore must present, at best, an abridged curriculum and at worst, as Pope Leo XIII put it, one of “little good… and considerable harm.”
“It is necessary not only that religious instruction be given to the young at certain fixed times, but also that every other subject taught, be permeated with Christian piety. If this is wanting, if this sacred atmosphere does not pervade and warm the hearts of masters and scholars alike, little good can be expected from any kind of learning, and considerable harm will often be the consequence.” Pope Leo XIII , in the encyclical Militantis Ecclesiae , 1897
I wish to be clear that this is not to be confused with saying that children who attend public schools are without morals or values; only that there is a limit to what they are permitted to hear and be taught. This is also not to imply that people who work in public schools are without morals; only that there is a limit to what they can say and teach. Confirming the premise of Pope Pius XI “that a ‘neutral’ school is bound to become irreligious” people of faith are lately more often censured when attempting to present “truth as an alternative thought or idea” while divergent thoughts and ideas unsympathetic to right judgment and common sense are encouraged in order to promote a plurality of tenets and beliefs and thus the apparent absence of absolute truth.
 “The so-called ‘neutral’ school, from which religion is excluded, is contrary to the fundamental principles of education. Such a school moreover cannot exist in practice; it is bound to become irreligious. Pope Pius XI in his encyclical, Divini Illius Magistri, 1929.
Never in the short history of our young nation has there been a more profound difference between how children are educated in a public school and how they are educated in a Catholic school! One institution denies Christ and attempts to educate half the person (natural not supernatural) with half the information (reason without faith). Catholic schools could not be more different. With the illumination of Christ as savior, model and teacher, Catholic schools seek to educate the whole person; recognizing both the natural and supernatural being and seeking truth, understanding and ultimately wisdom by way of both faith and reason.
For the past forty years the waning of Catholic schools in this country has muted a once loud and articulate voice of the Church at a time when secular humanism and nihilism have been muscling their way into the mainstream of today’s popular culture. As in generations past, a missionary spirit and mentality are required. A New Evangelization is urgently needed. Our modern privileged and narcissistic society has been sold a distorted and misrepresented view of Christianity. Many who would claim to know Christ are, as G.K. Chesterton put it, “weary of hearing what they have never yet heard.”
In 1852 at the first Plenary Council of Baltimore the bishops spoke with eloquence and conviction regarding Catholic schools and the formation of children in the faith;
“Listen not to those who would persuade you that religion can be separated from secular instruction. Listen to our voice, which tells you to walk in ancient paths; to bring up your children as you yourselves were brought up by your pious parents; to make religion the foundation of the happiness you wish to secure for those whom you love so tenderly…Encourage the establishment and support of Catholic schools; make every sacrifice that may be necessary for this object.”
With the increasing unconstrained degradation of Christianity and rising deference to irreligious ethics and ideals hanging in the balance, would that the present day Church in America could muster the resources and sense of urgency that the former Plenary Councils of Baltimore did in order to establish a strong foundation of faith and Catholic presence in the new world; would that the thought of becoming a post-Christian pagan nation inspire the same clarion call!
As we begin the 2012-13 school year, I would like to say thank you to all those who through the generosity of prayer, deed or financial assistance tirelessly work to support and realize the mission of the Catholic schools in our diocese. We are indeed fortunate to have been blessed with many holy men and women who now stand at the threshold of a new school year ready to serve the Church and embrace the challenge identified by Pope John Paul II “to restore to our culture the conviction that human beings can grasp the truth, can know their duties to God, to themselves and their neighbors.” May God grant us the wisdom and grace equal to the task before us.
†Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam†
Charles Taylor, Superintendent of Catholic Schools
Diocese of Gaylord