By Dr. Samuel Torres
Among the many options of schools available to choose, Catholic schools provide a powerful educational alternative for all families. Catholic schools have long been known for blending marginalized or disadvantaged students with advantaged students in vibrant educational settings. Elevating every student to his or her potential is a longstanding goal for private or parochial Catholic schools.
School leadership continually address and prepare for the changing landscape of each era to maintain a rigorous academic environment enriched with faith-based exercises, nourishing the whole child during his or her development into adulthood. These blended communities are not a new idea, for one has only to look at the history of our successful schools to understand how this works.
Catholic education was designed to uplift students from the fatigue of life and to strengthen their journey by equipping them with the academic and spiritual tools needed in life situations. We don’t need to look further than our own schools to appreciate social justice in action, as communities of youngsters learn to work together on diverse campuses across our Diocese.
Confidence building and leadership opportunities allow student the freedom to develop their unique personal profiles, and to elevate others in appreciation by engaging in sports, theatre, academics and a host of religious opportunities to challenge and explore their growth.
Within our Catholic elementary programs, students are well prepared for the rigor and social adjustments into high school. When compared to other schools, Catholic high schools have a 100 percent graduation rate and are more likely to attend and graduate college, maintain steady employment and give back to their communities. They are more likely to accept leadership roles, being well represented across the board in all fields of innovation and business.
When the National Household Education Survey compared Catholic School students with their public school counterparts, they found that Catholic school students were significantly more likely to engage in community service, were better informed about politics and more tolerant with political differences.
Additionally, students who attended a Catholic school were more likely to attend Mass and participate in their sacraments and church ministries. Since service is a chief component of Catholic faith-based programs, you will find the Catholic school graduates leading boards and giving charitably to institutions that have supported them, as they pay forward the opportunity for the next generation of students to lead. This kind of stability for youngsters is a tried-and-true formula that has worked over many generations.
The responsibility for forming future Catholic leaders belongs to all Catholics. Catholic Schools are the largest arm of evangelization within the Church. Our students are the future of our Church and the extent that we prepare them for this will shape our legacy. Each campus is a living Gospel demonstrating witness to our living Lord.
Every parish, every priest, including those who do not have schools at their parish, has a responsibility to maintain, foster and develop our Catholic schools. Parents must voice their concern, share insights and develop relationships in support of students and staff. Dialogue should come easily and frequently if we are working for this common goal. It works best when all come to the table.
Looking back on why Catholic schools were instituted in the 1700s, as a means to welcome and acclimate the immigrant, we see that our history is deeply entrenched in a familiar call to action. The need is ongoing, it is relevant, and it is our action to service that keeps the legacy of love continuing in our time. Though immigrants of the 18th century were largely Europeans seeking a better life, we see today that immigrants from Mexico, South America, Asia and Africa are settling in the Diocese of San Bernardino. The new wave of immigrants is fleeing the same hardships their predecessors fled.
The Latino/Hispanic population, which is majority Catholic, has grown to over 39 percent in the state of California, a number that now identifies this group as the largest minority group in the state. Our Diocese is approximately 68 percent Latino. The children of Latinos are not enrolled in our Catholic schools, proportionate to their numbers, for several reasons. Cost and assimilation of culture are two of the factors that keep them away. We the Catholic church must foster cultural sensitivity and affordability in our schools to increase access for all students.
Seeking additional resources and raising and providing funding to assist new families in enrolling in our Catholic schools is a calling for all of us, and the privilege we embrace in serving our generous Lord and Savior. Embracing the children of today and preparing them for tomorrow defines our Catholic Schools. We can all do something, and when we all do something, we celebrate the children in our midst. We have been told in Luke chapter 18, that His children are the kingdom of God. We are being asked to bring Him, the little children.
Dr. Samuel Torres is Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of San Bernardino.