Category Archives: Catholic Schools Week

Catholic Schools Week: Celebrating Vocations

The following blog was contributed by Dr. Tom Burnford, President/CEO of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, VA.

Last year, I visited the original home of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and the first classroom in the first school she founded in 1809. From her work, and the work of so many other religious and clergy, came the system of over 6,000 Catholic schools that we celebrate this week in NCEA’s National Catholic Schools Week, January 26 – February 1. Through Baptism, all Catholics are called to know, love and serve God through their lives; this is the fundamental vocation or calling that comes from Baptism.

But in addition to this core, each of us is called by God to serve in other ways, as parents, as single people, and for some as clergy and religious. As we today focus on vocations, please take a minute to think of a religious sister, brother, deacon, priest or bishop that you know and maybe reach out to them and thank them for responding to their vocation.

At the same time, we acknowledge the vocations of parents, spouses, teachers, principals and superintendents. And after expressing gratitude, let us take a moment today to reflect on vocation, the need for each of us, and our children, to listen to God and discern how best we are called to serve, and in a particular way to be open to considering vowed service to the Church through religious life or ordination.

If you have children in a Catholic school, talk to them today about the different types of vocations in the Church and help them to pray and discern what God may be asking. How wonderful it is that God gives each and every person a calling, a vocation as it were, by which we can know, love and serve Him and others!

The Top Ten Benefits of a Catholic School Education

Several years ago, Father Ron Nuzzi wrote ten reasons why parents should seek a Catholic education for their children. As a teacher of leaders, Father Nuzzi believes that it is important for all involved in Catholic education to clearly articulate the mission of Catholic schools. Father Nuzzi has granted us permission to reprint his Top Ten Benefits of a Catholic School Education. We hope that you will reflect on his top ten, add your own thoughts and develop your clear articulation as to the reasons why families should choose Catholic schools.

  1. An Incarnational View of the World
    Catholic school students learn that God is present and active in their lives and in the world. They learn to recognize the “footprints of God” in their daily experiences, especially in the midst of life’s challenges. They develop a sense of “Sacramental Awareness.” They see the signs of God’s love around them and become instruments of God’s grace in their own neighborhoods, communities and the world.
  2. Immersion in the Paschal Mystery
    Our lives are a series of small and not so small dyings and risings. In union with the Paschal Mystery, we realize that there is redemptive power in suffering, and in the power of the cross. In it lies the answer to the mystery of all of life’s successes and failures. In the experience of the Paschal Mystery, we also realize the need for community. Like Jesus, we encounter our own Simon of Cyrene to help us along our way.
  3. The Value of Relationships as a Reflection of the Divine
    Catholic school students learn to experience God’s grace and presence in their lives through their relationships with family, friends and teachers. The loving and supportive relationships they experience are reflections of the love and life-giving dynamic of the Trinity. As a community, we celebrate our successes and achievements. We share grief and downfalls. We unite together in solidarity and even challenge each other to become better reflections of the Divine.
  4. A Nuanced View of Scripture
    Catholic school students are given the opportunity to explore the beauty and richness of sacred Scripture seen through the lens of faith and lived out in daily practice. They experience the ongoing revelation of God in Scripture as the One who leads the Israelites through the Promised Land, and who redeems them through His Cross and Resurrection. They also come to view the human person as created in God’s “image and likeness” and destined for eternal life. They learn to apply Scripture to their own lives as a tool for prayer and the true guide for virtuous living.
  5. Civic Engagement 
    In a survey compiled by a non-American, non-Catholic source, it was indicated that private school graduates are significantly more likely to actively participate in civic activities than their public school counterparts. Catholic schools were ranked #1 in the percentage of graduates who actively participate in civic and community activities such as voting, volunteering, letter writing to legislators, Catholic Concerns Day, and donations to charity, not just for a tax write-off, but out of a sense of the requirements of justice. 
  6. Service for the Common Good 
    Catholic schools promote service as an essential component of their curriculum. Many Catholic schools have service programs from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Higher education programs such as the Jesuit or Dominican Volunteer Corps promote service at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Diocesan organizations such as Catholic Family Services provide resources and help to people from all walks of life. Catholic school students learn that they are in fact “their brother’s keeper,” and have a responsibility to respond to the needs of those around them. 
  7. Discipline as a Faith Expectation 
    Catholic schools promote self-discipline through clarity of moral vision that is based on the Gospel. Students are challenged to be Christ-like in word and action. They are asked to examine their choices and actions in light of the Ten Commandments and the Gospel law of love. They are given a theological foundation for ethical behavior. Students are not good because they act in accord with rules and expectations. Rather, because students are good, i.e., sons and daughters of God, they are expected to act and make choices that are in keeping with this dignity. 
  8. The Centrality of Arts, Ritual, Drama, Music to the Life of Faith 
    Through Catholic education, students are exposed to the richness of the religious tradition. Music, art, literature, drama and ritual are rooted in the rich history of the Church and find their truest glory as an expression of divine praise. 
  9. The Fullness of the Catholic Identity at the Heart of the Church 
    Catholic education has always been at the heart of the Catholic mission. Catholic education, and the students who are the product of it, have been called the “greatest work of the Church.” They have been entrusted with the fullness of faith and have been charged with the mission of evangelization. They are to go out into the world and share the gifts they have received, as doctors, lawyers, policemen, firemen, businessmen and women, teachers, priests and religious; as Catholic school graduates.
  10. Personal Excellence as a Spiritual Goal
    Catholic school students learn that excellence is a response to God’s blessings. Academic excellence is not a gospel value in and of itself. The Sermon on the Mount doesn’t say “Blessed are you who get all A’s.” Education must have an altruistic orientation. Students learn so as to help others and make a difference in the world around them.

Catholic Schools Week: To Form a More Perfect Union

This blog was contributed by Kevin Baxter, Chief Innovation Officer at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, VA.

As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, it is important to be grateful to all aspects that make our schools such wonderful learning environments. We are blessed to live in the United States where, since its founding, it has struggled through fits and starts and trials and tribulations to form a more perfect union. The foundation of liberty and freedom has enabled human flourishing to take place. That is unparalleled in history and we are grateful to live in a country where we can educate and worship in faith.

Catholic schools have played an instrumental role in moving the country toward the ideal of a more perfect union. St. Katherine Drexel established 50 schools for African Americans and 12 for Native Americans in the late nineteenth century when the memories of slavery and the Civil War were still fresh. From the beginning, Catholic schools have educated newly arrived immigrants, providing them with a great education and a stable acclimation to society. Families from Italy, Germany, Ireland and Poland came to the U.S seeking a better life and Catholic schools were so successful in educating their children that you would be hard pressed today to find leaders and influencers in any major industry who weren’t educated at some level in Catholic schools, from elementary through graduate school.

Today is no different as Catholic schools educate students from the Philippines, Mexico, Korea and many countries in Central and South America. We know from our history that our students of today will be the leaders of society tomorrow. Our schools educate students to be leaders in both their Church and in society at large. We expect our students to be of service to their communities and we know because of the strong faith formation they receive in Catholic schools, they will lead with virtue and compassion and transform the organizations in which they associate.

This all is expressed clearly in this year’s theme: Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed. We know that Catholic schools educate students effectively in both faith and academics and inculcate within them a sense of service. When Catholic school students succeed, the entire nation benefits from both their intellectual and spiritual contributions to society. We are grateful to the 29 states that have some form of parental choice legislation that assists parents in making the choice to send their children to Catholic schools. We know educational pluralism is a gift and we hope more states will enact similar legislation in the coming years.

We are in a period of great division in our nation and Catholic schools can contribute to bringing about more constructive dialogue through our education of young people and parents. Catholic schools teach that each person is graced with dignity and is entitled to respect and we know that society will be truly transformed when all recognize that God is present in every human being’s heart and we treat others with the respect merited by that reality. Our nation may then truly reach its ideal of a more perfect union through the grace of God and the work of Catholic schools.

Catholic Schools Week: Celebrating Your Community

This blog was contributed by Matt Russell, Chief Advancement & Business Development Officer at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, VA.

As we begin our celebration of Catholic Schools Week, January 26 – February 1, we look to acknowledge the different facets that make a Catholic school such a special and meaningful place. There are many elements that come together to create a vibrant Catholic school: parishes, parents, students, faculty, clergy, the community and the nation.

Every day in Catholic schools across the country, we invite our students to a deeper relationship with God. Our students live the Gospel through their relationships and interactions with their classmates, teammates, parents, teachers, parishes and most critically, the community. Our schools by virtue of being Catholic, are called to be places of welcome and inclusion. They have an opportunity to be the vibrant epicenters of growth for their communities. 

Our schools live the Joy of the Gospel through their heads, hearts and hands by knowing and serving the needy both locally and globally. The interaction of commitment and service between the school, its students and the community can be a reason for dedication and reenrollments and a driver of new enrollments to the school. The greater the sense of community, the healthier the school will be. It is a key piece to the creation of sustainable Catholic schools now and well into the future.

Certainly during Catholic Schools Week, we celebrate the good work of our students, faculties, clergy, parishes and communities, but we are also connected to each other across the nation. As we proudly celebrate and give thanks for all the great things our schools are doing, let us remember to invite the greater community to be a part of our schools in a new way. Let us lead others by example as our Catholic identity sets us apart from all other schools. Living and leading according to the Gospel attracts people to the faith and creates a culture that keeps and welcomes our community to join and support us.

Catholic Schools: Developing Saints and Scholars!

The following blog was contributed by Kathy Mears, Chief Program Officer at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, VA.

The national theme of Catholic Schools Week is “Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.” The Catholic schools in the United States are blessed to belong to communities where people of faith are taught to serve God by serving others. Catholic schools work to ensure that our faith is embedded into every aspect of the school. Teaching students to live and learn by Catholic principles will provide a foundation that supports them their entire lives.

Students at Catholic schools attend Mass on a regular basis, and prayer is a part of their daily lives. The values students learn include the intellectual curiosity of St. Ignatius, the unwavering faith of Saint Julie Billiart and compassion for others demonstrated by St. Francis of Assisi. They are taught to trust in God as St. Joseph exemplified, and they are given multiple opportunities to serve, as taught by St. Theresa of Calcutta. In the face of celebrity idolization, Catholic school students are shown true role models. Across the country, Catholic schools are embracing new technologies and combining them with the tried and true teaching methods of questioning, practice and exploration. Catholic schools are equipped with language labs and science and innovation centers. Students are learning about coding, robotics, 3-D printing and more. We are using technology to enhance the teaching and learning process, but we understand that true learning happens when the student, parent and teacher work together to provide the best possible atmosphere for students.

 In our hearts, our school leaders and teachers understand that Catholic education is about building a relationship with Jesus. A few years ago, Pope Francis told a group of young people to, “Have courage…Go forward…Make noise.” We are doing that in Catholic schools. We are looking for additional ways to meet the needs of our students and their families. We continue to monitor our students’ learning and making adjustments to make sure that each child is reaching his/her potential. We are sharing our story, the good news of how our schools are helping our students to develop into “Saints and Scholars.”

If you’re a parent, I hope that you’ll consider sending your child to a Catholic school. If you’re an engaging, forward-thinking educator who is looking for a teaching position, I encourage you to apply to teach in one of our schools. And, if you are someone who has spare time and a desire to share your talents, I encourage you to become a volunteer! Together, we will help our students to develop their relationship with God, while learning to apply faith and reason to their lives.

Catholic education is alive and well, and our country is better for it! Our alumni are engaged in the world and are leaders in it. Alumni of Catholic schools are voters, they are volunteers, they attend Mass. They are contributors to the common good. Please pray for everyone in our Catholic schools as we work to support this important mission of the Catholic Church.

How Catholic schools in the Diocese of Grand Rapids celebrated Catholic Schools Week

More than 6,600 students in 30 Catholic schools across the Diocese of Grand Rapids celebrated National Catholic Schools Week from January 28 – February 3, 2018. This year’s theme is “Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed” with events highlighting how Catholic education provides lifelong benefits for students and their communities.

In honor of Catholic Schools Week, the diocese announced that Welcome Scholarships will be available for new families for the 2018-19 school year. Welcome Scholarships provide $250 at the preschool level, $750 for K-8, and $1,000 in grades 9-11 to students who are new to Catholic schools. Welcome Scholarships originally were offered through the three-year Bishop’s Catholic Schools Initiative (2015-16 through 2017-18) and will continue under the “Catholic Schools: Bridging Faith and Future” strategic plan. Catholic schools in the diocese are also celebrating three straight years of enrollment growth and the decision to open the new independent St. Robert Catholic School in Ada this fall.

Catholic Schools Week is an opportunity to thank the families, faculty, school leaders, clergy and supporters who make our Catholic schools a success,” said David Faber, superintendent of Catholic schools in the diocese. “Every day, I am grateful for their year-round dedication and service.

 Catholic Schools Week activities at different schools included food drives for those in need, assembling thank-you baskets for emergency responders and open houses just to name a few. Additionally, several hundred student representatives and educators from across the diocese gathered for Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Andrew on Tuesday, January 30 to give thanks for the gift of Catholic school education. 

Celebrating Families

Parents, guardians and other family members play a vital role in Catholic education. Not only do they volunteer at the school, they instill values and expectations for academic excellence in their children at home. We acknowledge the role of families in Catholic education and celebrate their contributions to the success of our schools on the last day of National Catholic Schools Week, and all year long.

Inspiration and Ideas

  • Celebrate academic excellence by hosting classroom visits for families and community friends.
  • Organize a family picnic or potluck.
  • Explore and learn more about the lives of saints who are important to families: Saint Gianna, Saint Pope John Paul II, Saint Joseph, Saint Anne, Saint John Bosco, Mary – Undoer of Knots, Saint Joachim, Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Raphael.
  • Invite families to attend Mass together.
  • Recognize siblings within the school by posting photos of them on a bulletin board.
  • Host a family board game marathon in the cafeteria.
  • Host a family welcome night for new families in the parish to meet members of the school community.
  • Create a large-scale family tree celebrating all the families in the school.
  • Explore the World Meeting of Families website for resources and videos from the 2015 celebration at
  • Host an open house for prospective families.
  • Research faith as it relates to your own families culture and history. Make a spiritual tree of baptisms, marriages and ordinations – including the name of the parishes where family members made these Sacraments.
  • Request a Mass to be offered in the name of a recently deceased family member.
  • Share a prayer for families.

Celebrating Faculty, Staff and Volunteers

The following article was contributed by Ms. Casey Buckstaff, MNA, MAT, principal at Saint John the Evangelist Catholic School in Severna Park, Maryland.

As we prepared for Catholic Schools Week last Friday, I asked for some faculty help at the end of the day. Our theme this year is “Our school is good soil,” based on the Parable of the Sower; and we wanted to create a “garden” with a flower designed by each child and faculty member in the school. It would be a beautiful surprise as they arrived for Catholic Schools Week. It would have taken my whole day Saturday to hang up 500 flowers throughout the school. By the time I came in from parking lot duty after school, I found 500 flowers lining our halls.

Later that same Friday night, I drove with a teacher to Annapolis to watch the pre-CSW tradition, a basketball game between our 8th grade boys and girls teams and a local Catholic school rival. At halftime of the first game, I looked down the crowded bleachers. Not only were they filled with St. John parents and students of all ages, but I counted 14 faculty members there in the crowds. Lower and upper school teachers, some who never had taught the student-athletes out on the court.

The following night, we welcomed the Archbishop to our campus. He was here to celebrate Mass and then to open a beautiful new parish activities center on campus, a gym and meeting space whose space more than doubled our previous café-gym-atorium. I had reserved a large number of pews for my faculty and their families, and as Mass began, I looked out at them. My heart over-flowed with love and joy and the blessing that is my Catholic school faculty; gathered to celebrate our parish and school as we continue to grow together.

There is never a day I begrudge walking through the doors of my school because I know I walk through these doors with some of the very best teachers, the most faithful disciples, the most hard-working people I know. People I have come to love and respect, challenge and nurture, as they do the work to sow the seeds in the good soil that is the hearts and minds of our children.

This is the story of my faculty; this is the story of Catholic school teachers and staff all over the United States. This is the story of women and men whose vocation is at the heart of the faith, family, and academics of all our Catholic schools.

On this day, schools will honor teachers and principals as well as administrators and staff who support them in their important work and thank the parents, grandparents, alumni, parishioners and school board members who provide volunteer service.

Celebrating Vocations, one superhero at a time!

The following article was contributed by Christopher Hueg, Campus Minister & Theater Director at St. Mary Immaculate Parish School.

vocation /vōˈkāSH(ə)n/ n. a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation.

From the time I was in kindergarten, I can remember wanting to be a teacher. I came home from the first day of school and proudly declared to my mother, “I’m going to be a teacher when I grow up!” As I continued to grow and learn in school, I found that this feeling to be a teacher did not go away. I attended a Catholic and Lasallian high school in Minneapolis, MN, where my education was a priority. I felt a true connection to all of my teachers. My teachers became mentors, counselors, advice-givers, and ones that I turned to in times of hardship and celebration. When it came time to select a college and degree program, I knew what I was looking for–a strong university with a great education program. I didn’t realize that selecting to attend a Catholic university would be the answer to finding my life’s calling or vocation: to be a Catholic educator and being that same mentor, counselor, advice-giver, or one who is there during the hard times and celebrations, like my teachers were to me.

In my current position as Campus Minister at St. Mary Immaculate Parish School (3-year old preschool through 8th grade), I am able to share this same vocational calling and listening to God’s word with each of my students, but in a more special way, too. I am able to share with them the possibility to be a vocation of the church: priest, deacon, nun, religious sister or brother. Each of these vocational callings are so important to our faith, and I believe in the strong feeling of God’s call to join in these ministries.

I give thanks every day for my Catholic education and my kindergarten teacher for being that role model to ignite a vocational calling in me that is still present today. Being a Catholic teacher is my true calling and my strong feeling that I am meant to be where I am today.

One of the themes of National Catholic Schools Week is to celebrate vocations, and finding ways to make it tangible and real for our students. At St. Mary’s this year, we chose a dress down theme that connects to a popular trend among our students and movie-goers alike: SUPERHEROS! As we celebrate the true superheros of our faith, we are able to be saved and welcomed into the kingdom of God when they share their message. Dress down aside, our Catholic Schools Team also wanted to highlight and make a more intentional connection to those who have chosen a vocational calling in the church. Blessed to be a part of a great diocese, we have several resources that connect us to our current seminarians and young men who are training to be in the priesthood. Each homeroom had the opportunity to “adopt a seminarian” and learn more about their life through a simple Google Slides platform. After learning about their seminarian, students decorated cards or wrote letters of encouragement to their seminarians to let them know they were in their prayers and were cheering them on in their studies. This personal connection brought the calling of religious vocation to a more realistic understanding for a lot of students.

Additionally, this year we were blessed with the opportunity to host an all-school assembly with our diocesan seminarians and their traveling basketball team, the Joliet Jammers, to play against our 7th and 8th grade boys basketball teams. The games were competitive, they represented our best Catholic sportsmanship, and the seminarians were able to share their personal vocational stories of when they heard the calling to the priesthood and how it might be similar to some of our students at St. Mary Immaculate. As the assembly was wrapping up, some of the classes were able to meet their “adopt a seminarian,” and share their cards with him. Many students afterwards shared that it was like meeting a Hollywood celebrity. This feeling of stardom is how each of us are challenged to see the call of religious vocation: meeting good face-to-face in the most common people, our religious superheros!

By focusing on faith, knowledge and service, Catholic schools prepare children to use their God-given talents to the fullest later in life.

Keeping Faith with Freedom – Celebrating the Nation

The following article was contributed by Dale McDonald, PBVM, PhD, Director of Public Policy at NCEA.

The United States has always extolled itself as a model of diversity and pluralism.  The one exception has been its increasing hostility to private and faith-based education as an alternative to the “common school” – the public school portrayed as the only conveyer of democracy and American ideals.

When this nation was created, the Founding Fathers took deliberate action to create a secular federal government in the milieu of a society of essentially religious people.  Within the specific historical circumstances of that period, the Founders institutionalized a form of governance based on “disestablishment” that would not prefer, discriminate against or oppress any particular religion. This concept was incorporated into the First Amendment to the Constitution, creating a legal framework for protecting religious freedom while distancing the federal government from religious institutions.

As the secular culture changed over the years, the process of defining the degree of separation of the secular from the sectarian in a pluralistic society became problematic and is often characterized by vagueness and inconsistency.  Legal interpretations of the intent of disestablishment have resulted in such a pluralism of religious commitments that has led to the call for privatization of religion and the role of religious institutions in the public square.    Consequently, misunderstandings inevitably arise in any discussion of church-state relations and this particularly true when analyzing the historical interactions of the Catholic Church and federal and local governments regarding the existence and funding of Catholic schools.

The church has always respected parents as the primary educators of their children and supported the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court legitimizing a dual system of education (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 1925).  Catholic schools provide not only a faith-formation for its students but also provide formation of educated citizens who will contribute to the political, social and economic future of the nation.  As the various members of Catholic school community began to reflect upon this service of Catholic schools to the common good and examined the fiscal costs in providing such public service, they began to challenge the inequities inherent in denial of funding because of educational choices exercised by parents and began to see parental choice as a public policy agenda that needed to be pursued.  As effective public policy, school choice respects and reinforces parental rights to determine the kind of educational opportunities they want for their children.  As effective public policy, school choice places the responsibility on parents to exercise political and economic power to make decisions of behalf of their children and increases the probability that the education system will be more responsive to needs of their children. As effective public policy, school choice demands that the resources required to exercise rights and responsibilities be provided to empower poor parents to access alternatives to failing schools and that will necessarily affect educational and social equality.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a great deal of apathy and/or ignorance among some Catholic school leaders and consumers about the conceptual and practical aspects of parental rights in education as a public policy issue.  Too often, the debate is largely defined and shaped by those who do not have the interests of religious schools as a significant concern.  If the Catholic community is to succeed in furthering  parental choice as the justice issue it is, Catholic educational and church leaders, must become a more articulate and assertive force in shaping both the direction and content of public policy debates that impact the rights of parents to choose the best educational options for their children with the necessary support financial support for those who are poor of modest means.  Going forward, the Catholic community needs to develop an effective public relations campaign to provide accurate information about the contribution of Catholic and other religious and private schools to policy makers, as well as the general public, that will focus the debate on the issue of the value and the need for a dual system of education in our democratic society.

When Pope John Paul II visited the 1987 NCEA convention and proclaimed Catholic schools as “a gift to the Church and gift to the nation,” he reminded all of the assembled educators of the value of the contributions of Catholic schools to both the sacred and the secular aspects of American society.  This is what we have celebrated for the past 45 years in the annual proclamation of Catholic Schools Week – and what we proudly acknowledge in our theme: Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.

On National Appreciation Day for Catholic Schools, students, families, educators and other Catholic school supporters communicate the value of Catholic education to government leaders.