I am humbled by your welcoming comments and your desire to partner with me in shouldering the responsibility of maintaining and improving our schools. I am impressed by your spiritual zeal, and the great work that has demonstrated your love for our Church, and your commitment to provide for our children in Catholic schools throughout the Diocese. All of us are needed in this mission. All of us are called to discern how we can involve ourselves with the future of our Church.
I have been on a learning curve this summer while acquainting myself with the diverse collection of our schools. I have learned quickly that our school communities work hard to meet the needs of our students and families. In my brief journey, I have encountered school leaders, teachers, and families who thirst for a continued opportunity to provide access for all children in our schools. Additionally, I have scheduled visits to all schools and I am planning to visit all parishes to learn more about our respective communities.
I would like to share some recent data on our schools. The school-year ending 2017-2018, combined a total of approximately 7,500 students from our preschools to grade 12. In the Diocese, we have 1.7 million Catholics. Currently, we have four high schools, 24 elementary schools, and two preschools. We have proudly opened a new high school in Temecula, Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac High School, now serving grades nine and ten. The Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac Elementary School is fully enrolled at 600. In Alta Loma, Saint Peter and Saint Paul Elementary School has opened a middle school, grades six and seven, and will now occupy newly renovated classrooms that include a STEM classroom. Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Riverside recently had a blessing on their new STREAM Laboratory. An additional upgrade to Aquinas High school includes the new San Manuel Performing Arts Center. This new modern structure, the first in the region, will be home to many Fine Arts productions from Aquinas High School and local community groups.
The mission of the Office of Catholic schools is to “embrace the Diocesan vision as we lead, serve, motivate and challenge our Catholic Schools to be strong in Catholic Identity - spreading the message of the Gospel, educating students with academic excellence, building community while maintaining the principles of stewardship in our preschools, elementary, and secondary schools in the Diocese of San Bernardino in order to advance the catechetical and educational mission of the Church.”
My role as superintendent is to animate the Diocesan Mission. The time for our schools to grow is now. Students who graduate from our high schools and elementary schools are prepared spiritually, academically, emotionally, and physically. There is room for growth in our enrollment numbers. We have a vision to share and there are many seats still available. Our Diocese is rich in diversity and our schools need to reflect that same diversity. Our Diocese is the fifth largest in the nation and among the fastest growing. If we are going to build the Church, then our schools need to be at the forefront, educating and preparing students for the world and eternity. While we are rich in diversity, we are even more wealthy in love and gratitude. Let us make generosity our greatest pillar of wealth as we look ahead to the future of our Church; the children we are called to prepare.
In a world of uncertainty, you have my assurance that all our schools are seeking the excellence, that not only prepares our students for Harvard, but most importantly for heaven. This means taking a hard look at our facilities, our professional development, and fiscal management, as well as making decisions based on faith and justice.
To put things into perspective, let’s quickly revisit our history. Our first Catholic schools were opened to acclimate, educate and ultimately offer a higher quality of life for the Catholic immigrant. This narrative is almost 200 years old! In 1965, we had the highest number of Catholic school students enrolled in history. Religious brothers and sisters were the majority of the educators. Our schools were affordable to all. Over the last 50 years, enrollment has declined and tuition has risen. Today, most of our educators are laypersons. With lay educators come equitable salaries and benefits. Catholic Schools have a tremendous reputation for populating roles of leadership and service throughout our nation and together we must work to not only keep the doors open, but extend our spiritual wealth to the future church.
My goals for Catholic education are as follows: diversity in our schools, access to our schools, and providing a quality inclusive Catholic education which celebrates the Gospel. Our school culture will: grow critical thinkers who possess values consistent with the Gospel, who are confident in creating change, who will lead the Church compassionately forward as fully functioning members of our society.
I am counting on the blessing of Almighty God. I am counting on my partnership with you. I am counting on the hope we share in growing our Diocese. While there is much work to do, my prayer remains that, together, we will joyfully encounter one another in this privilege.
On Aug. 25 I attended the Ordination of our 11 new deacons. As witness to this celebration and moment of commitment, I was struck by the intensity of love and strength we possess in our faith as the Body of Christ within the Diocese of San Bernardino. Our Church is vibrant, alive, and growing. As members of His body, we sense an urgency to claim our rightful place in present history. We will not get yesterday or even today back for a restart. It is a tremendous responsibility, but an incredibly joyful time for us to love one another. Yes, they will know we are Christians by our love. I welcome you into the conversation of how we may work together to complete God’s will in our Catholic Schools. Please pray with me and for me, as I lead our schools.
Samuel Torres is Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of San Bernardino.