By Dr. Michael S. Griffin, Diocesan Superintendent of Schools
FALL RIVER, Mass. — A recent research report from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University began with the question: “Do Catholic schools matter?” As we begin the celebration of Catholic Schools Week across the United States January 25-31, it is an excellent time to consider the contributions of Catholic Schools, and in particular, the difference Catholic schools are making for the future of our Church.
CARA conducted national surveys of adult Catholics and examined the responses of those in different age groups regarding Mass attendance. The results demonstrated higher rates of Mass attendance among Catholic school graduates than the population in general. While this applied to all age groups, the difference was especially noteworthy in the responses of young adults (age 32 and below), among whom Catholic school attendance appeared to have a particularly strong impact. The trend continued in other areas of the survey in relation to reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation, consideration of priesthood or the religious life, and lay participation in ecclesial ministry. In each case, a positive Catholic school effect was noted, particularly among the younger adults.
The study concluded, “In the broadest view, the long-term benefits of Catholic schools in making Mass attendance more likely and helping ensure young Catholics are confirmed (and remain Catholic as adults), along with the importance these institutions play in fostering Catholic leaders likely outweigh many of the short-term financial difficulties Catholic schools currently face” (Mark M. Gray, “Do Catholic Schools Matter?” Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, June 13, 2014, www.nineteensixty-four.blogspot.com/2014/06/do-catholic-schools-matter.html, para.14).
The fostering of Catholic faith and values within an environment of academic excellence is the foundational goal of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Fall River. It is gratifying, although not surprising, to see studies such as the one cited above, confirming the extended impact of a Catholic school education into adult life. A Catholic school student spends more than 1,000 hours a year in an environment that includes daily prayer, religion classes, high expectations of respect for self and others, service to the community, and pursuit of academic excellence. The results are powerful and lasting, and important to our Church and society as Catholic school children develop into a new generation of leaders.
More than 6,700 young people are currently served by the 22 elementary and secondary schools of the Diocese of Fall River. The academic success of these students is evidenced in test score results, such as SATs, where our high school students’ average score of 1606 well surpassed the Massachusetts state average of 1556 and the national average of 1497. The Iowa test scores of our students in grades three-eight, averaging at the 66th percentile, are also well beyond the national norm of 50 percent. Combined with the emphasis on faith and values, Catholic school students are guided by teachers and administrators who are dedicated to the education of the “whole person.” They reinforce each day the values parents are teaching in their homes.
This week, Catholic schools in the Diocese of Fall River will join with others across the country in celebrating the distinctive Spiritual, academic, and social mission of Catholic education. A highlight will be the bishop’s Catholic Schools Week Mass, which Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., will celebrate with the students from the six Catholic schools in the city of Fall River at St. Anne’s Church. This is the culmination of a series of six Masses Bishop da Cunha has celebrated across the diocese in recent weeks, involving the students of all our Catholic schools.
The theme of Catholic Schools Week across the country is the celebration of “Faith, Knowledge, and Service” that are woven into the fabric of each Catholic school. Every school in the Diocese of Fall River will be celebrating Eucharistic Liturgies during the week in accord with the theme of fostering “faith” among our students. Schools have also identified special opportunities for prayer which will include prayers for peace, for their families, for those in the armed services, and for the gift of Catholic education to our Church and the world.
The theme of “knowledge” will be showcased in science fairs, spelling bees, and career fairs. As one example, the middle school students from the New Bedford area schools will participate in the “Catholic Schools Challenge,” testing their knowledge in all academic areas.
“Service” to others, while taking place in every school throughout the year, will be highlighted during Catholic Schools week by a variety of activities including: collecting and distributing food to a variety of food pantries, providing household items for My Brother’s Keeper, donating homeless kits for veterans, and sending thank you notes of appreciation to parents and grandparents, teachers, police and fire personnel, and men and women in the armed forces.
Catholic schools are joyful communities of learning and Catholic Schools Week provides an occasion for fun and special social activities. Schools will host assembly programs, sports team days, and ice cream sundae parties to name a few. There will be trips to roller skating rinks and the bowling alley for some children, while others will enjoy story times, school dances, and games.
Open House sessions will be offered by many schools, providing an opportunity for new families to visit and register for the next school year. In the Diocese of Fall River, one-third of our Catholic schools grew in enrollment last year. Given the importance of Catholic schools for our students, our Church and our society, we invite all interested families to explore the opportunities Catholic schools provide for growth in faith, knowledge and service to God and others.