By BISHOP ROBERT J. BAKER
St. Wendelin Elementary School in Fostoria, Ohio, is a school with an enrollment of 396 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. The school opened its doors for the 2000-2001 school year on Aug. 24.
I attended that school from 1950-1958, from grade one through grade eight. It was the beginning of Catholic school education for me, an educational venture that was to continue for me through my years in the seminary in Columbus, Ohio, and on through graduate studies in Rome, Italy. I am greatly indebted to my Catholic school teachers and professors and, for that reason, am highly supportive of Catholic school education today.
This year, back at St. Wendelin school, the principal, Cathy Krupp, has selected the theme for the school year as “Building Peace Together.” One of the ways this theme will be incorporated in the school is by “solving conflict through peaceful communication.” Mrs. Krupp intends to use peer mediation and will implement this program beginning with fifth-graders.
“Faculty, staff, and parents will be encouraged to help create a peaceful environment of mutual respect for one another,” says Mrs. Krupp.
Efforts like the one at St. Wendelin’s school of “Building Peace Together” are a logical follow-up to disasters facing schools throughout our country, such as the one at Columbine High School in the spring of 1999. Positive preventative action is the best medicine for educators today, especially when so many people are tempted to say, “that could never happen here!”
Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, in a recent address to a group of American bishops on their Ad Limina visit to Rome, said that “the mission of the Catholic school is the integral formation of students so that they may be true to their condition as Christ’s disciples and as such work effectively for the evangelization of culture and for the common good of society.”
“Catholic education,” the pope said, “aims not only to communicate facts, but also to transmit a coherent comprehensive vision of life in the conviction that the truths contained in that vision liberate students in the most profound meaning of human freedom.”
Everyone wants to have a measure of freedom, especially young people. And we know that Jesus came precisely to set people free. Jesus said “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
And our Holy Father adds, “In a cultural climate in which moral norms are often thought to be matters of personal preference, Catholic schools have a special role to play in leading the younger generation to realize that freedom consists above all in being able to respond to the demands of the truth (cf. Veritatis Splendor, 84). The respect which Catholic elementary and secondary schools enjoy suggests that their commitment to transmitting moral wisdom is meeting a widely felt cultural need in your country” (“Catholic Education: Relating Freedom and Moral Truth,” Pope John Paul II to bishops of the ecclesiastical regions of Chicago, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee).
In a Feb. 13, 1999, address to students, teachers, and administrators representing schools of Rome, Italy, Pope John Paul II said “the school and education in general have a decisive and irreplaceable task as ways of authentic human liberation from the slavery of ignorance …. The future of humanity and the social development of a nation depend to a great extent on the quality of its schools and their commitment to presenting themselves as an educational community for all their members.”
The future of humanity depends to a great degree on the quality of our schools. As the tragic event of Columbine High School reminds us, not only the future of humanity depends on how well we educate our students — our young people’s present existence, their survival today depends on how well we are educating them.
While the task and responsibility of education reside first and foremost with the parents, the school shares that noble responsibility. In the Diocese of Charleston, we who have the responsibility of overseeing our schools, a responsibility we take seriously, want to assure our community that our Catholic schools are authentically Catholic, academically excellent, community supported, and financially feasible.
We want to reach out as much as we can to qualified students whose parents struggle financially.
Through our newly initiated “Beacons of Light” program we are enlisting widespread support to help center-city schools and parents in financial need.
Help us continue here in the Diocese of Charleston the wonderful tradition of Catholic education that goes back to the days of the great Bishop John England and has continued, with God’s help, through the leadership of succeeding bishops to our own day and time.
In this month of September in this Jubilee Year of Prayer we recall that Christ calls us to take a further step in our vocation as committed Christians by praying that all of us may educate ourselves and others in the work of the Gospel.