By Msgr. Ralph Chieffo
As we sadly witness the closures and mergers of our Catholic schools, we remember that Catholic education was the foundation of our adult faith and future commitments to priesthood, marriage and society.
We recall the miracles of transformation when our devoted priests, sisters and lay teachers lived the values of a Christian conscience and character. Many devoted faces of priests, religious brothers, sisters and laity often pop up in my imagination as I thank God for their sacrifices in communicating our shared faith. As little ones, we did not understand the Paschal mystery, but we saw it practiced by the saints who taught us.
We know the challenge of Catholic education in a growing secular society, but I firmly believe that our focus must be on adult faith formation. Pastors, principals and parents must partner with our teachers in a unified effort of promoting Gospel values so that our students receive the same message at home, school and church.
One practice that I have implemented in my 19 years as a pastor is interviewing parents with the principal before accepting their children in our Catholic school. Whether in the city or the suburbs this dialogue has proven beneficial in three key areas.
Faith formation: The goal of Catholic education is the formation of Christian disciples and saints. Catholic schools grace and guide our students to become responsible citizens of earth on their journeys to heaven.
Parents as role models: Parents must be willing to renew and practice their faith in order to pass forward this gift. They are required to be involved in school and parish spiritual, academic and social events.
Financial sacrifice: Pastors must help parents understand that sacrificing for Catholic education does not stop with paying tuition. The cost of the school demands the sacrificial commitment of the parish, parents and business community.
Over the past 20 years of interviewing parents, they shared a variety of reasons for sending their children to Catholic schools.
The interview provides an opportunity to clarify the faith vision and values of Catholic education. Many needed adult catechesis and to be welcomed back into Church worship and reception of the Sacraments.
By emphasizing stewardship and charity as the fruit of a good prayer life, many readily volunteered their expertise and served as leaders in both school and church ministries.
Above all, personal relationships developed between pastor, principal and parents who created a good rapport between parents and faculty and the larger faith community.
The pastor must constantly stress the vision of a faith family where we all enjoy many blessings, while also sharing the burden of working together for the common good.
Are we willing as pastor, principal and parents to be passionately Catholic and academically challenging for the glory of God and the good of the faith family?
What greater gift can we offer our children than adults vibrant in their worship of God and willing to be charitable to all? Will God not grant us even greater miracles when we are faithfully witnessing to our young?
Msgr. Chieffo is pastor of St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Media.