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A vision for our Catholic schools

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January 23, 2012

By Jim Rigg

At this time of year, I am always reminded of an experience from my first years as a Catholic school principal.

During this time, I was approached by a second-grade student who had recently been asked to lead her non-denominational Christian church in prayer during a Sunday service. Each week, the pastor asked a child from the church to lead the people in an opening blessing. On this Sunday, my student stepped in front of the large congregation, took a deep breath, and prayed “Hail Mary, full of grace…”


As the prayer was unfamiliar to the congregation, the girl completed the Hail Mary in solitude. After saying “Amen,” she looked at the people and sternly stated: “This is how we say prayers at my school!”


This memory always reminds me of the evangelizing power of our Catholic schools. Regardless of whether our students are Catholics or non-Catholics, our schools have an indisputable role in cultivating the faith lives of children. In an era where our children are increasingly exposed to mixed messages from culture and the media, it is vital that our schools provide a faith-based education that is consistent and grounded in the compassionate teachings of Christ.


Such a message is particularly profound during Catholic Schools Week. From Jan. 29-Feb. 4, our archdiocese joins churches and schools across the country in celebrating the value and success of Catholic school education. During Catholic Schools Week, we are reminded that every day our schools are educating the next generation in the salvation of Christ. In every school, we are equipping the future leaders of our church with the virtues and values that they will need to affect positive change in a troubled world.


The success of our schools cannot be disputed. Across the world, the Catholic Church educates more children per year than any government or educational institution. Our schools graduate more students into college than any public system, and frequently at a fraction of the cost of our public school counterparts. The majority of priests and religious are graduates of Catholic schools. In the archdiocese, our elementary schools rank among the highest echelons in performance on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Our high schools are renowned across the country for their academic success and extra-curricular offerings.


In spite of this success, it is vital that we continue to think carefully about the future of our schools. We must ensure that this success can continue, and that are schools are able to support all students, regardless of their economic background or learning needs.


To accomplish this mission, we initiated a process in 2010 to define a new vision for the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. This vision is grounded in the belief that, while all 113 of our schools possess a valued and unique identity, we are ultimately unified in a common mission. By studying our climate and joining more closely together, we will ensure that our schools have a vibrant future, and are poised to continue to offer exceptional programs to our youth.


The effort to define this vision has proceeded aggressively. Last year, we gathered enormous amounts of data on the current performance of our Catholic schools. We studied religious, academic, operational, and finance data. We listened directly to school stakeholders through “Visioning Sessions” and surveys. In October of 2011, we issued a report that reflects the collected information about our schools.


Since October, our task has been to study this data, collect any additional data, and begin identifying trends. In the months ahead, we will be formulating conclusions and defining our vision for Catholic schools. This vision will be completed by the end of the summer of 2012.


I have been overwhelmed by the interest and energy behind this project. The people of the archdiocese possess tremendous pride in their Catholic schools, and seem genuinely interested in ensure that our schools have a vibrant future. In honor of Catholic Schools Week, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr is publishing a message of support to all Catholic school stakeholders. In this message, he calls upon the people of the archdiocese to rally around the schools. He voices encouragement for support and participation in the formation of our vision and plan for Catholic school education.


Our vision for our schools, and indeed our schools themselves, will not be successful without the widespread support of the people of the archdiocese. Schools are our ministry, and Catholic education is critical to the future of our church. Our vision will be completed by the end of the summer of 2012. With God’s grace, this vision will provide for many more years of success. For, as Bishop Roger Foys of Covington fondly states, “While there may be alternatives to Catholic education, there are no substitutes.”


For more information on the vision for schools, visit http://www.catholiccincinnati.org.


Rigg is the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

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