I had the privilege to speak to Bishop Robert Lynch, the retired archbishop of St. Petersburg, about the US Bishop’s 2005 statement, Renewing Our Commitment as part of the Catholic School Matters podcast Church documents series. The long-time advocate of Catholic schools and school choice was a strong voice for Catholic schools serving all.
When I asked Bishop Lynch about why people should support Catholic schools which serve predominantly non-Catholic populations, he had a strong reaction. “Pay attention to the life of Jesus,” he said. “Jesus didn’t just associate himself with Jews.” He went on to describe the day’s Gospel of the Roman Centurion who asked for healing for one of his servants. Bishop Lynch’s reminder about the purpose and mission of Catholic schools serves to call forward our mission to evangelize the world and to serve.
In the document, the bishops remind us of the value of Catholic schools. “Catholic schools are often the only opportunity for economically disadvantaged young people to receive an education of quality that speaks to the development of the whole person” (222). This contact with the Church through Catholic schools might be the only meaningful contact for many non-Catholics. And Catholic schools prove remarkable effective in closing the achievement gap, as the bishops point out in the next section.
The bishops reveal the secret to the success later in the document. “The preparation and ongoing formation of new administrators and teachers is vital if our schools are to remain truly Catholic in all aspects of school life” (225). In order for teachers to serve as effective witnesses, we cannot simply hire the best people. We must develop and implement effective professional development programs of faith formation so that our teachers and administrators can participate in the journey of faith.
Another interesting point the bishops make is the growing inclusion movement of our schools. “We applaud the increasing number of our school administrators and teachers who have taken steps to welcome these children and others with special needs into our Catholic schools” (224). It’s important to notice that inclusion has a history with the American bishops who strive to reach out to what the Vatican document Threshold of the Third Millennium (1997) called “special attention to those who are weakest” (15) and also echoes their 1978 pastoral statement on persons with disabilities.