If seeing is believing, than I wish the entire country could have seen what I saw on Monday when I visited Saint Raymond’s Parish in the Bronx to celebrate the beginning of Catholic Schools Week. If they did, we would have a nation full of believers in Catholic schools, instead of too many skeptics and opponents.
Was I ever impressed and encouraged by what I experienced there!
We began the day with a Mass that was not only reverent and respectful, but also full of spirit and joy. The church was packed with young men and women, ranging in age from 4 to 18, praying and singing with a sincerity and devotion that was palpable. Formation in the faith is obviously a top priority at Saint Raymond’s.
It’s equally obvious that academic achievement flourishes at Saint Raymond. After Mass, I had the opportunity to visit both the elementary school and the girl’s high school. (Although I didn’t make it to the boy’s high school, as the faculty had a day-long retreat, I did meet a contingent of the young men who were there to welcome me.) The halls are spotless, the atmosphere bright and welcoming, the classrooms are in perfect order, and the teachers and students work together to create an atmosphere of mutual respect and learning. It was easy to see why Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese graduate 98% of their students, with 95% of the graduates going on to colleges and universities.
As impressive as those statistics are, I was much more impressed by the people I met. The kindergarten children who led the congregation at the Mass in the “Alleluia” before the Gospel; the dedicated faculty, led by their principals, Sister Patricia Brito, Brother Daniel Gardiner, and Sister MaryAnn D’Antonio; the girls who are about to graduate from high school, many of whom had been at Saint Raymond’s since pre-k, and who had tears in their eyes as they contemplated the end of their years as Saint Raymond’s students; the elementary school students who prayed the Hail Mary and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, as they do every morning.
I am well aware of the challenges that must be faced concerning our Catholic schools. We will need to plan, to work, to sacrifice, in order to keep our Catholic schools open. We must seek new ways to strengthen our schools, to market and promote them, to make certain that they are strong in their Catholic identity.
How we will face these challenges is a question that must be addressed if we want Catholic schools to survive. To me, the answer is simple: Yes, Catholic schools must not only survive but thrive. Here’s why. During my visit, I was given three checks – one from each of the three schools – totaling more than $24,000 that the students had raised for the relief of their brothers and sisters in Haiti. What a magnificent outpouring of generosity – and this from kids hardly wealthy or even middle class! If, as Jesus teaches, “by their fruits you will know them,” then this Catholic school, and Catholic schools across the archdiocese and throughout the country, are responsible for young men and women who are educated, loving, respectful and faithful.
Catholic schools. We need them now more than ever.
Happy Catholic Schools Week!