By Mary Rochford

Catholic Schools Week celebrations became an annual event in 1974. I can remember teaching the third grade at St. Timothy School in Philadelphia just like it was yesterday! In those days, celebrating Catholic Schools Week meant taking displays to the local malls. We were not necessarily looking for increased enrollment (St. Timothy School had six and seven classes of each grade level) but spent time bragging about the excellence of our Catholic school at 3033 Levick Street.

We had lots to brag about since our school had programs such as advanced math, honors science, accelerated English, French, art and music in the seventh and eighth grades. This kept the pressure on the lower grades that had to prepare the students for this eventual destiny. {{more}}

Now, 37 years later, Catholic Schools Week points to the blessing that Catholic schools have been and continue to be for our nation. We continue to have excellent learning environments forming Catholic students in their faith all the while evangelizing those who choose to come to our schools seeking a values-based educational environment. Our academic programs prepare students for college and work environments, providing graduates a place on the path to futures full of hope.

Promoting schools today has taken on a whole new focus. Test scores, graduation rates and college attendance are among the first characteristics people seek out as they search for the best educational choice. Catholic schools take pride in a clear focus and success rate in these areas due to great and dedicated teachers, interested and involved parents/guardians, supportive pastors and parishioners as well as students who reach for the expectations set before them.

However, for me and my family, educated in Catholic schools from first through 12th grade and beyond, the key ingredient that has made all of our lives successful is the depth of the Catholic faith.It was instilled in us from birth, in our home and every day when we entered a variety of Catholic schools within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. This Catholic faith formation is the foundation from which we made all of the critical choices in our lives and continue to do the same in this new year of 2011.

We can’t remember many of the statistics that came our way through report card grades, standardized test scores or IQ tests, but we do remember that many people expected us to act like somebody, live up to our Catholic faith and contribute by the lives we would live outside of the years of formal schooling. No matter how many years pass, these same traits are required for success in the 21st century world.

More than 100 years before the establishment of the first Catholic Schools Week, the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884 issued the following statement: “Reason and experience are forcing them [all denominations of Christians] to recognize that the only practical way to secure a Christian people is to give youth a Christian education…no parish is complete till it has a school adequate to the needs of its children and the pastor and people of such a parish should feel that they have not accomplished their entire duty until the want is supplied.”

As we go forward with our mission of Catholic education, we may look different in the years ahead. Our numbers will be less than in our peak years, but our greatest treasure remains the same: coming to know, love and serve Jesus Christ in this world and to be happy with Him in the next.

I know this is at the top of the list of what Catholic schools have to offer. With Jesus as our center, all that we strive for on a daily basis is to continue to earn our A+!

Mary Rochford is superintendent of schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.