Doreen Engel, theology teacher and inclusion advocate from St. Raphael Academy in Rhode Island, is the guess blogger as part of the Church Documents series.  She reflects on the podcast conversation with Fr. John Belmonte, SJ, the superintendent of the Diocese of Joliet, who discusses the Church document The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium (Vatican, 1997) as part of the Catholic School Matters podcast series.

“Come and see.” This compelling invitation found in John is the Gospel of the day for the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, January 4th.  What perfect encouragement for Catholic educators to take advantage of the entire Catholic School Matters “Church Document Series.”

In the most recent discussion, we have the opportunity to learn about The Catholic School in the Third Millennium, with insights provided by Fr. John Belmonte S.J., Ph.D.  I also appreciated the guest blogger reflections of that titan of Catholic Ed tweeting, “Barb in Nebraska”, AKA veteran 3rd grade teacher Barb Gilman.

I was struck by their insights, as well as those of our weekly host Dr. Tim Uhl, regarding the light this document shines on new ways that Catholic schools are called to serve the poor.  As we are surviving the “Bomb Cyclone” here in Rhode Island, I would like to use my snow day to add one additional way our schools are serving the poor: educating children with disabilities.

Catholic Schools across the country have seen the need, and are responding to prevent material poverty by offering children with disabilities a high quality education.  The need is great: statistics for employment for adults with disabilities are not encouraging.  Only 32% of adults with disabilities are employed, and many are in low-wage jobs.  Although on the rise, the nationwide high school graduation rate for students with disabilities is only 64% compared to 84% for students without disabilities. This does not even touch on the poor performance outcomes of many students with disabilities, even though we now know so much about effective pedagogical techniques that can reach all learners.

Addressing this need dovetails beautifully with other types of poverty which Catholic schools work to overcome. Two of these, as Barb mentions, are “spiritual poverty, and the poverty of being slaves to the idols of modern society.”  The reality that disability is a normal part of the human experience is an excellent pushback against a culture that idolizes youth, perfection, and the futile endeavor to be the best.  I applaud the many classroom teachers in Catholic Schools across America who have accepted the invitation to come and see, discovering that Inclusive Catholic Education is a logical outgrowth of our faith and a beautiful ministry to our families, and our nation.