“Celebrate Catholic Schools Week” in the U.S. begins this year on Sunday, January 26, and ends February 1, 2020. The theme of this week of celebration and reflection is “Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.”
It would be impossible to overestimate the influence that Catholic schools have had on the Catholic faith, and indeed on all of civic society, in the U.S. Catholic schools have produced generations of leaders and nurtured the faith in ways incalculable.
When and where was the first U.S. Catholic school established? According to the National Catholic Education Association’s Web site, it’s hard to pinpoint, but clear that U.S. Catholic education has deep roots. The Franciscans opened a school in what is now St. Augustine, Florida, in 1606. Not too much later, and farther north, Jesuits were educating Indian children, including our new American saint, Kateri Tekakwitha. Women like Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, who helped to found the Catholic school system in America, and Saint Katherine Drexel, who labored for the education of Black Americans, were among the thousands of religious women who gave their lives to “raise the standard” in Catholic education. The influx of immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, coupled with a decidedly antiCatholic bias present in some public schools of the time, propelled the enormous growth of Catholic schools in America’s great cities and small towns.
Entire generations of U.S. Catholics are graduates of the Church’s school system. Times have changed. Many dioceses face consolidations and closures of schools; public schools have become inclusive, and the network of religious women who made Catholic schools so affordable has been largely replaced by a dedicated pool of lay men and women.
Yet, Catholic education continues to flourish and continually seeks new ways to enhance our Catholic faith through education. Today, 7,000 Catholic schools continue to serve the Church and nation, and produce America’s leaders and faithful Catholics. As Catholic stewards, we are grateful for the gift to our Church and nation of Catholic schools, and we pledge our continued support and prayer.