Category Archives: Proclaim

The Serious Work for Catholic Schools Begins Now

The following blog was contributed by John James, Ed.D., professor of educational leadership at St. Louis University School of Education.

Catholic schools stand as an exemplar and a contradiction. They serve as a powerful creator of social capital, a point of engagement with families for the Church and a powerful disciple-making tool; but operate within a complex market economy dominated by a loss of social cohesion and a consumeristic culture. They serve a critical apostolic mission of the Church and spiritual work of mercy, but must close schools for the most vulnerable and for those who might benefit the most. Catholic school closures in 2019-2020 disproportionately impacted underserved families and non-Catholic families. Black families, Title I students, urban communities and non-Catholics were overrepresented in the demographic sample of closed Catholic schools. The decline of 6.4 percent was driven by a 26.6 percent decline in pre-kindergarten enrollment. Maybe it’s parents working from home, taking a shot at home-schooling, and they will return post-COVID; maybe they won’t. This is no time for complacency. There is serious work to be done!

So why did high schools fare better and are there any lessons regarding governance, administration and finance? Possibly. The median elementary school enrollment in 2019 was 215, compared with 510 for secondary schools; larger schools afford greater efficiencies of scale. Parish investment as a percentage of the school operational budget has remained relatively static in the 9-12 percent range over the last ten years. Secondary school advancement as a percentage of the school operational budget increased from 7.3 percent in 1988 to 13.9 percent in 2018. What is the impact on tuition? Between 2006 and 2019, the average tuition as a percentage of the cost to educate a student increased from 61.1 percent to 75.3 percent in elementary schools, and decreased from 81.5 percent to 73.3 percent in secondary schools.

The disparate impact on urban centers, underserved populations and elementary schools is a logical consequence of a fee-for-service model without much equalization aid. Certainly, many archdioceses have generous tuition-aid programs such as the Today and Tomorrow Foundation here in Saint Louis. However, application of distributive justice to support and sustain Catholic schools is a mixed bag. In 2004, only 33 percent of dioceses had policies and guidelines regarding financial support from non-school parishes that have parishioners attending a neighboring Catholic school; in 2009 that percentage had risen to 48 percent. In 2004 only 14.4 percent of dioceses had policies that required financial support for Catholic schools from all parishes, regardless of whether they have a school or not; in 2009 that percentage had risen to only 28.7 percent.  It’s difficult to argue for distributive justice in the public square when we don’t practice it ourselves.

This leads to the last area for serious reflection: mobilizing parents to demand true educational freedom. Espinoza vs. Montana Department of Revenue (2020), following Arizona v. Winn (2011) has opened the door for the aggressive consideration of tax-credit student tuition organizations that present opportunities for the poor to attend Catholic schools. This is a watershed moment for every Catholic school board to have a “legislative whip” connected upwards to the diocesan office and to the State Catholic Conference, and downwards to the “class captains” for each grade. It’s one thing to hear of some rumblings about some tax-credit thing going on in an education committee at the state legislature; it’s another thing entirely when the State Catholic Conference puts out a call to its “legislative whips,” who send the message to “class captains” for each grade, and individual parents get a personal email from a parent they know who calls on them to rally for their rights as parents.  Australia had its Goulburn moment in 1962 that led to financial support for its Catholic schools. It’s time for ours!

A Look at Catholic School Data

The following blog was contributed by Dale McDonald, PBVM, Ph.D., NCEA Director of Public Policy and Educational Research.

Not another survey! I often hear that from busy Catholic school educators to whom surveys and other appeals for information seem ever-present. Requests to complete surveys often require several follow-up pleading reminders to those being asked for their participation. Yet, without comprehensive, reliable, longitudinal data sets, effective planning is not possible.

Comprehensive, current and complete data are needed to provide an understanding of Catholic education as an important sector of American education, to inform the public discussion of educational policy issues and to encourage and improve practice at the school level.

Since 1970, the National Catholic Educational Association has been tasked with obtaining and managing the collection of Catholic school data. Annually NCEA publishes a report on Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the United States. The data analyzed and presented are based on census data collected by each Catholic arch/diocesan school education on behalf of NCEA. The diocesan superintendents have been important collaborators with NCEA in assuring that all schools report information that is current and accurate.

This annual statistical report presents an overview of the historical dimensions of Catholic education and the context of American education in which Catholic schools operate. Also included are Catholic school enrollment and staffing demographic data that highlight school, student and staffing characteristics, tuition and special services provided to students in Catholic schools. Available longitudinal data that track changes over time, both nationally and regionally, enables dioceses and schools to compare their particular schools with others similarly situated as they assess their viability and engage in strategic planning for the future.

Another NCEA publication is the Annual Financial Report. This is based on surveys of Catholic schools conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University. While not all schools choose to participate, this summary report highlights some of the national, regional and specific school-type data about schools’ finances, governance, administrative structures, tuition, financial aid and other relevant fiscal issues. The data provide diocesan and local school leaders with relevant information needed to understand and appreciate the many aspects of school finance that are a prerequisite for planning and good stewardship. 

In addition, this information presents a clear picture of the financial contributions and sacrifices that Catholic school parents, teachers, parishes and dioceses make to educate children. Catholic education is a significant contribution to the common good of the nation, not only in the morally educated citizens it produces, but also in the substantial taxpayer savings of more than 20 billion dollars annually.

Busy school administrators know the importance of having and using data in managing school finances, effective instruction, student learning outcomes and long-term viability and are grateful to have it provided in a format that is readily accessible. But to have good data, all need to help provide it. As the lottery ads used to say, “You have to be in it to win it!” Catholic school leaders, please think twice about what your data can contribute before you hit the delete key!

Our Obligation Is Today

The following blog was contributed by John Reyes, Ed.D., executive director of operational vitality at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).

Yesterday, we released a data brief highlighting some of the most important findings of our annual research on school enrollment and staffing in Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the United States. Since the 1970s, NCEA has collected and published this data, United States Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools 2020 – 2021, on an annual basis for the benefit of advancing awareness and advocacy for Catholic schools.

Make no mistake about it – these are difficult and challenging findings that demand collective soul-searching and critical reflection. However you choose to dress it, the generational impact of the pandemic on Catholic schools ought to compel us to reflect and act from the deepest convictions we hold about the work we do in Catholic schools.

Most importantly, in the words of Flannery O’Connor, we ought to remember that “the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

It is NCEA’s deepest conviction that the work we did over the last several months and for decades will be transformative. We know that it will be instrumental to a greater awareness and ownership of the challenges, vulnerabilities and opportunities that lie ahead of us.

In the coming days, expect to hear more voices from the field as to how we ought to galvanize ourselves and each other in the ever-present calling to educate young people and their families in the beauty, truth and goodness of Jesus Christ, regardless of the circumstance.

We at NCEA know the passion and dedication that makes Catholic schools possible. We have been teachers, principals, coaches, colleagues, superintendents, parents and supporters of Catholic schools, and it is from that deep well of experience and response to crisis that we recognize our obligation. Our responsibility is not merely to comfort; it is to empower.

We must acknowledge the facts, while remaining hopeful and focused on finding solutions to the challenges we face.

Our obligation to our students and their families is renewed today.

Introducing ShopWithScrip Gift Card Fundraising

The following blog was contributed by ShopWithScrip, the largest gift card fundraising platform in the United States, supporting Catholic schools and other organizations to raise money to use where it’s needed the most—whether it be family tuition credit, classroom enhancements, class trips, operating funds, scholarship needs, or more.

A safer and easier way for your school to fundraise—whether class is in person or virtual. 

2020 was a tough year for fundraising. Not being able to gather or interact has severely hindered traditional fundraising methods. It’s a year that has put school tuition credit and other educational initiatives at risk, for schools like yours all across the country. So, how can your school’s families raise much-needed funds in a new way?

The answer is simple: ShopWithScrip gift card fundraising. With gift card fundraising your school’s families raise money for the initiatives you put in place, simply by purchasing gift cards for their everyday purchases or grabbing holiday gifts for everyone on their shopping list. Imagine fundraising that can be done anytime, anywhere with little effort.

With gift card fundraising, there is no door knocking, no selling and no extra time or money spent.

Instead, your families purchase gift cards at face value from more than 750 popular brands. Then, the store donates a percentage of each gift card purchased to support Catholic education. The store gets the sales, your families get the full value of the gift card to go shopping with, and your school raises money to use where you need it most—whether it be family tuition credit, classroom enhancements, class trips, operating funds, scholarship needs, or more.

Catholic schools and other private schools across the country have been using ShopWithScrip for over 25 years to support their school’s mission. See what one Catholic mom had to say about the impact gift card fundraising has had on her family:

“Gift card fundraising has been such a blessing to our family! We began using this program right after our first son was born. We rolled over our earnings until our second son was in first grade and we were almost able to pay for his tuition in full that year. Each year, we were amazed at how the earnings added up and gave us financial relief. We have faithfully used gift cards for our weekly groceries, gas, Christmas gifts and restaurants through the years. A true blessing by helping families use their purchasing power for tuition relief.” – Suzanne J. (mom who earned for her kids’ education)

As you can see, it’s quite easy for families to purchase gift cards that fuel their fundraising for a stronger Catholic education. And they can choose to purchase those gift cards from the safety of their home or while they’re on the go.

Thanks to the new RaiseRight app by ShopWithScrip, families can easily purchase gift cards right from their mobile phone—including hundreds of eGift card options that are available to use within minutes. Plus, for added convenience, families now have the option to have gift cards, from hundreds of different brands, shipped right to their door. It’s so convenient and requires no coordination by school administrators.

It’s simply the right way to fundraise. Once you try it, you’ll see for yourself the endless earning potential.

To learn more about how to start your free program visit



Years of Choice and Grace

The following blog was contributed by Sr. Mary Paul McCaughey, coordinator of DePaul University Catholic Educational Leadership Programs and author of the new book, Grace and Guts for School Leaders: Practical Prayers.

At 72 years old and almost 54 years after entering the convent, I am still clueless about my vocation. This is an honest clueless which I hope is not disappointing to those wishing something profound – and I trust that is okay with God. My vocation is simply a grace and a choice.

At 17, existential angst was the order of the day. Like Sartre in Nausea, even my death would have been “in the way.” Laughable now having lived a while, but desperately sincere at the time, my choice of God – and, in retrospect, the imperative of giving my young life completely in service as validating the belief in a living God – meant taking the leap and joining the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois. If this came as a cause for laughter for some (my best friend’s mom hiccupped herself off the sofa), it was not a huge shock to my boyfriend or my dad, both of whom knew I had to try it…and told me that I would always be welcomed home.

From there, it was Merton, scripture and secular and spiritual writers to feed an immature but willing soul. Blessed in role models within the community, learning to be professional and trying to be kind was the order of the day for young adulthood as it still is for me today. The winds of Vatican II had blown through the windows but saying “yes” to needs of the community remained a constant, a curb still for a rather independent spirit trained as a waitress (everyone should be) and willing to meet new people while passing the hors d’oeuvres.

Since being sent to teach fifth-graders at age 20 (bless their very dear and patient hearts, soon to be facing retirement), it was off to seventh graders (endurance), then high schoolers at all levels and ministry itself became grace and formation. Born in the daily work, there is innate gratitude for the rhythms of ministry, the seasons of the heart of serving kids in the now and for the future. As a teacher now at the graduate level, this very direct call to individual and communal transformation remains powerful. I may not remember every name, but even neuroscience tells me that every moment is indelible in my brain.

A bit of Holy Spirit (thank you, my Dear!) works outside of the classroom too. While I always wanted to be a counselor, I was to spend 30 years in administration as a high school president and principal then superintendent of schools, trying desperately to see God in the cracks of life, the face of Jesus in working to steer systems. It is a part of a single fabric – serve as called, as you can. These years brought me deep pain, not in doubting my call to religious life, but in not being able to do enough or even very well.  Out of this well of experience has come a sense that we simply do our best in all arenas and then trust God for the work. There are a million things I would have done differently, but I was not that person then and I simply need to ask forgiveness and lean into integrity again.

Life has been as St. Bridget of Kildare wrote, “a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.” Seriously. A lake. Beer. Years of choice and grace have been an opportunity to live and serve and love all in my path. The love was sometimes angry, always imperfect, but still real. Because I lived, gifted with family, community, co-workers, my friends, students and the breath of God, I have drunk deeply of the lake. If drinking up has left me clueless, it has also provided me with thousands of songs from the bar….and a true (if sometimes tipsy) joy.

Celebrating Our Nation and School Choice

The following blog was contributed by Margaret Kaplow, director for marketing communications and manager, public relations for the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).

Catholic Schools Week, January 31 – February 6, is the national celebration of Catholic school education and the theme for February 3 is Celebrating Our Nation. Students, educators and families can communicate the value of Catholic school education to government leaders and pray for the nation and recognize all those who serve our country.

Catholic Schools Week is an opportunity for Catholic schools to showcase their best attributes, increase enrollment and tell their school’s story. In a non-pandemic year, the weeklong celebration includes Masses, teacher-student basketball games, open houses for new and prospective families, coffee hours with local business leaders, no-uniform days, community service and much more. Adhering to CDC health guidelines, this year looks a little different with virtual open houses, livestreamed Masses, friendly competitions held with six feet of distance between competitors. Still, Catholic education is to be celebrated. Academic excellence, character formation and the evangelizing mission of Catholic education draws families to Catholic schools, but for many it means sacrifice. 

For more than two centuries, Catholic bishops, pastors and parents have educated children in parish and private schools with the intention of offering the life-giving Word of the Gospel in an environment that shows respect for the human person, the virtues of good citizenship and academic excellence. This effort has been done without aid or subsidies from state or federal monies but largely through the tenacious efforts of parents, pastors and grass roots fundraising. Based on public school per pupil cost, Catholic schools save the nation more than $22 billion a year. In addition to a national savings, 99 percent of Catholic school seniors graduate each year; 84 percent of those students go on to graduate from college. The success of Catholic schools is one of the Catholic Church’s best stories in the United States.

The challenging reality is that tuition costs remain a major obstacle for parents who want to choose their children’s school. Many Catholic schools offer tuition subsidies and scholarships, thanks to the generosity of dioceses, parishes and private philanthropy, but these cannot serve all families and are tenuously sustainable. Fortunately, parent or school choice policies offer an opportunity to families who are unable to “choose” by changing their zip codes.

Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia offer 65 publicly financed programs  (vouchers, scholarship tax credits and educational savings account programs) that help parents choose a private or faith-based education for their children. The Catholic education community’s commitment to empowering families’ decision-making with school choice and the incredible witness our schools provide means we cannot be silent in this debate. In fact, school choice is one of the issues NCEA supports when working with other Catholic organizations such as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Council for American Private Education (CAPE) and Catholic Education Partners (CEP) when advocating to Congress for Catholic school education.

During this Catholic Schools Week, all supporters of Catholic school education are invited to get involved by learning more about school choice and by checking the American Federation for Children interactive map for a state-by-state list of which states have some form of school choice programs. If your state does not have any programs to support school choice, you can use a congressional list categorized by state to contact legislators to make your voice known about school choice.

The Vatican Council in 1965 stated, “Parents who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools.” For that choice to be meaningful, public funds for education should follow each child to the school that parents choose. It is important to emphasize that empowering families to direct their children’s education will not undermine communities or diminish local school districts; instead, choice levels the playing field and strengthens local bonds as we all work together to improve education.

Thank You to Our Catholic School Educators

The following blog was contributed by Kathy Mears, interim president/CEO of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, Virginia.

When our children were growing up, they both had to be taken to the doctor because their legs would hurt. Sometimes the pain would wake them up and they would come into our room crying because it hurt so much. In both instances, after several tests, doctors diagnosed “growing pains.” Our children’s growth spurts were causing physical pains. The treatment was ice, ibuprofen and patience. The pain would go away when the growth spurt ended.

During this pandemic, I think our schools have suffered some growing pains. Our teachers and school leaders have pivoted so quickly, that the learning has come in spurts and the needed rapid change has caused headaches and heartaches. It has also led to better teaching and increased learning for our students. Our Catholic school educators are to be commended, because through the pain, they have persisted in learning and teaching so that our students come out of the pandemic understanding that they are known, that they are loved and that they have been well served by caring teachers.

Switching from online learning to face to face and back to online learning has been the norm this year as educators respond to cases of COVID in their classrooms. Doing both online and in person learning is challenging. Our educators have responded with grace, enthusiasm and new skills. While not always perfect, there is no doubt that they are making every effort to meet the needs of their students.

NCEA recently surveyed over 1400 parents who chose Catholic schools this year for the first time. One of the questions asks, “What has been the best part of the school?” The number one answer: “Caring and effective faculty and staff.”

During this Catholic Schools Week, we honor our Catholic school educators. Without a doubt, their dedication to teaching the whole child is making a difference. Caring for our students, knowing them and their needs are nothing new for Catholic school faculties and staff. Yet, it is different, because they have done this work while wearing masks, while staying six feet away from their students, while meeting students online.

I so wish I could thank each teacher personally, perhaps provide them a token of appreciation. They have handled our growth spurt so very well. I’m sure there are days when they have needed the ibuprofen, days when it really hurt. Yet, they continued to learn, to do what was necessary, doing the impossible really, really well.

I am so impressed and very grateful. Your work and commitment to your vocation have been noticed. You are doing the impossible. You are serving your students, your community, your nation and your Church. You are showing our children the love of God. Thank you.

Tell Your Story: The Importance of Marketing for Catholic Schools

The following blog was contributed by Rachel Rell, University of Notre Dame student and 2020 NCEA marketing intern.

Stories move us. Emotional connection draws us deeper and forces us to better remember and identify with a cause. This fact has been proven in psychology time and time again. Although all consumers may not sit in their living rooms and inform the whole family when a great commercial comes on like I do, there is no doubt that we form connections with stories that we can empathize with and relate to.

With the many responsibilities expected of school administrative members, marketing can be easily pushed aside. But, the mission and stories of your school must be shared. Catholic schools identify very strongly with the Catholic faith and the missions set before them. Parents, students and community members need to hear these stories and missions, the inspirations behind why you do what you do. Sharing these can not only increase student enrollment, but also help your school connect with the broader community and gain parent and community advocates. Use the stories and motivations that inspired you to also inspire others.

There is no doubt that schools this year will look different than ever before. But, what hasn’t changed? What will stay the same no matter how much the world as we know it continues to change? The answer is the work that you do and the reason you do it. Whether your school’s story is overcoming the damage done by wildfires, creating a diversity program despite the challenges of virtual learning, establishing the first mental health initiative in your diocese, dedicating resources to help underprivileged families during the pandemic, or something else, the work that you’re doing is important and needs to be shared. The Catholic Church has stood at the forefront of countless worldwide challenges in the past. Take the initiative to share what makes your school and the education you provide to your students and families instrumental in forming our nation’s young people and shaping our communities.

As an intern at NCEA last summer, I made it my goal to do everything I can to support you in the work that you are doing, a mission that guides the work of all NCEA employees. As a proponent of the importance of marketing, I have rewritten the Catholic Schools Week Marketing Guide that we make available to our members each year, This guide contains not only resources for planning both Discover and Celebrate Catholic Schools Weeks, but also tips for continuing your marketing all year long. In light of the changes this past year, I have added many resources to this guide to assist you in formulating marketing plans for your schools despite the challenges and constraints of COVID-19 that no doubt weigh heavily on your minds.

The new resources added to the guide this year include a guide to choosing and using various marketing channels, a guide to establishing a social media presence, updated and improved liturgy planning guides for both Discover and Celebrate Catholic Schools Weeks, and a guide to planning and running virtual events and school tours. These new resources were added based on your feedback and are provided to you to help in continuing to share your stories with your communities.

Although this year will look different for us all, I urge you to demonstrate perseverance and stay grounded in the missions of your school and the goals of the Catholic Church and Catholic schools as a whole. We are all in this together, and NCEA is here to support you in any way we can. I greatly enjoyed serving you and the mission of Catholic education last summer, and I hope that you are able to use the resource I have created to keep telling your stories. The work that you do is important; share it!

Running Towards the Danger: Early Learnings from Catholic Schools in the Midst of the Pandemic

The following blog was contributed by John Reyes, Ed.D., executive director of operational vitality at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, VA.

“Over time, even an academically rigorous school with strong Catholic identity will not survive without operational vitality.” – National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools, 2020

While much attention has been drawn to the academic and spiritual response of Catholic schools to the pandemic – are you tired of Zoom yet? – there is more we can and ought to learn about the operational response from Catholic schools. Catholic schools, while operating first and foremost as an apostolate of the Church and in service of the Great Commission, also happen to be businesses – “temporal organizations” with which school leaders are charged to operate in the four key areas of finances, human resources/personnel, facilities and institutional advancement.

In a survey we conducted with our membership and led by Annie Smith, our director of research and data management, we sought to gather insight on school and diocesan responses to the pandemic. (You can view a summary of the data set here.)

After analyzing an advance copy of the data with participants at our Catholic Leadership Summit last week, I pulled out a few key findings that helped to illustrate how Catholic school leaders “ran towards the danger” in responding to the pandemic:

  • The vast majority of Catholic schools across the nation are operating with at least part-time in-person instruction, with no major outbreaks or transmission of COVID-19 being reported. Only 8% of school leaders who responded were operating completely virtually, with the vast majority of those school leaders in California (and in Los Angeles’s 70,000+ student Catholic school system, the first wave of schools were granted waivers and opened in-person instruction to early elementary students this week). The lack of major outbreaks or transmission in Catholic schools substantiates prior nationwide research suggesting that schools, particularly elementary schools, pose minimal risk in terms of the spread of the disease.
  • Early infusions of cash from the state and federal level to support schools and businesses were crucial in addressing the uncertain financial position brought about by the pandemic. 91% of diocesan leaders and 78% of school leaders reported utilizing state and federal funding as a strategy to bolster finances over the last seven months. Conversely, only 37% of school leaders reported using savings to cover operating deficits; depending on the already fragile nature of school budgets and lack of clarity around future funding support for schools at the state and federal level, we may start to see many more schools touch “rainy-day funds.”
  • Leaders saw the use of technology as the most lasting change to “business-as-usual.” Despite problems with technology procurement, including delays and cost, 83% of diocesan leaders and 71% of school leaders said that improving or strengthening educational technology as a positive aspect of the shift in operations due to COVID-19. Sixty percent  of school and diocesan leaders also stated that they intended to make technology-related changes permanent, even after the pandemic.

Our findings also raised some important questions and considerations, particularly as it relates to how we best move forward:

  • How will schools respond to the challenge of retention? One crucial piece of data that the survey was less than definitive on was the impact of the pandemic on school or diocesan Catholic school enrollment. While some schools and dioceses saw notable and even double-digit percentage point increases in enrollment, there were plenty of enrollment declines that mirrored or exceeded similar declines during the late 2000s. We are convinced, probably now more than ever, that offering in-person instruction matters greatly to parents – but how can school leaders experiencing enrollment growth sustain their pandemic-related boosts, particularly as more public and charter schools begin to return to in-person instruction? 
  • What will staffing in schools and dioceses look like going forward? Salaries and benefits comprise the majority of most school operating budgets, yet in the midst of severe economic downturn, a mere 37% of schools reduced staff to address their uncertain financial position. Only “increasing advancement events” ranked lower in terms of strategies used by school leaders. We know that staffing has been an operational concern in Catholic schools for quite some time now – our own data at NCEA tells us that despite a two-thirds drop in enrollment from 1960 to 2017, staffing levels have remained exactly the same (!) – but could this be the moment where the levee finally breaks?
  • How are leaders choosing to make temporary strategies permanent? At the Catholic Leadership Summit last week, many diocesan leaders analyzing an advance copy of the data noted that leaders considered the majority of the new strategies implemented in the areas of enrollment, finance, marketing, staffing and advancement as temporary. It’s hard to tell whether respondents are “waiting things out” to see whether those temporary strategies are worth maintaining going forward, or if there is full intent to return back to business as usual in those areas once a sense of relative normalcy is restored. That said, we must see crisis as an opportunity for innovation and as an opportunity for things to be “born anew” – could there be strategies and tactics that, instead of being bound to the graveyard of reactive and short-term change, shine a path for a new chapter of vitality and vibrancy for Catholic schools?

We invite you to look at the data for yourself – let us know what resonates with you, what aligns with your experiences, what you’d like to learn more about. A commitment to challenging our preconceived notions, testing our presumptions and asking questions only serves to strengthen and not undermine the shared work we do in leading and sustaining vibrant Catholic schools.

Serving God Through Serving Others

The following blog was contributed by Eileen Mostyn, a senior at the University of Notre Dame and summer intern for the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).

From the time I entered preschool at age three, up until now, as I prepare to begin my senior year of college, Catholic education has been a constant in my life. In fact, I’ve never known any other form of education. During that time, I have found that there are many features of Catholic education that don’t change much, no matter your grade level. There was a crucifix hanging in my kindergarten classroom, in my high school chemistry lab, and in my university lecture halls. I have been regularly attending Mass with classmates for eighteen years. Every school cafeteria and dining hall in which I’ve eaten has been meat-free on Fridays in Lent.

There is one particular thing that has been present in every level of my Catholic education, however, which I feel has made the greatest impact on the person I am today, and the person I will continue to grow to be: service. Throughout my life, I have been raised knowing the importance of serving others in everything that I do. All of my teachers and school administrators impressed upon my classmates and me the idea that if we wanted to be servants of God, we must first be servants to others. From food drives to visits to nursing homes, service has been central to every school community of which I’ve been a part.

Even now, in my upper-level economics classes, our professors encourage us to consider the results of our decisions. Is the economically efficient outcome always the best moral outcome? How do we make sound economic decisions, while also doing as much good as possible? There is a larger sense of responsibility in these questions than in the question of whether I could bring canned goods into school for the food drive, but the central question remains the same as it always was: how can I use what I have and what I know to serve other people? My Catholic education prepared me to be able to think carefully about these questions, and helped cultivate in me a desire to find the answers and live my life in service to others.

Through Catholic education, we are able to do so much more than just share knowledge with students; we are able to share values with them which will shape who they grow up to be. The values that were shared with me from the time I was three years old are certainly still with me. My elementary school’s motto is central to my belief system to this day: “Serving God Through Serving Others”. Importantly, I was not only exposed to these words, but to teachers, school leaders, priests and parents who truly lived them. I feel very fortunate to have been raised by and around so many people who were constantly striving to live their lives in service to others. Without their example, the words telling me the importance of service would have been meaningless.

The way we teach our children matters. As people involved in Catholic education, we have the very important, and very exciting, role of shaping the minds and hearts of tomorrow’s leaders. Catholic educators everywhere are doing the amazing work of showing children how they can live out this call to service. It is through the action of service, an action which is central to the mission of Catholic education, that we are able to teach our children how to be servants of God by being servants of others.