BALTIMORE (November 15, 2007)– Tens of thousands of Catholics across the country have responded to the call of the bishops in their 2005 statement Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary & Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium, to make Catholic elementary and secondary schools available, accessible and affordable to Catholic parents and their children, reported Bishop Robert J. McManus, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Education Committee. The report was delivered during the bishops' general meeting held in Baltimore, November 12-15.
Bishop McManus reported that more than 37,000 copies of the document had been ordered by dioceses, schools and parishes nationwide and that it has become the basis for a wide range of conferences and initiatives. He expressed the committee's gratitude to the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) for their report, A Nationwide Response to Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary & Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium, which provided significant data assessing the current state of Catholic education in the U.S.
Among the many activities underway in dioceses across the country, the report indicates, are efforts to bring together educational, business, and community leaders to strengthen Catholic school education in their areas. Numerous dioceses are using their teacher certification processes at the primary and secondary levels to strengthen their schools' Catholic identity and mission effectiveness, and the number of school administrator and teacher development programs at Catholic colleges and universities is rising.
Some dioceses have created specific programs to serve the increasing number of Hispanic students in their areas. Others report developing innovative programs and greater resources to allow more students with special needs to benefit from a Catholic education.
More effective strategies to increase financial support for Catholic schools and students are being developed and implemented, Bishop McManus said. "Millions of dollars have been raised through these efforts," he reported.
"These include more emphasis on stewardship, multiple parishes supporting the same school, successful appeals for support from businesses, and advocacy efforts leading to tax credits and publicly funded scholarship programs which assist parents in choosing a Catholic school for their children." He reported, also, that increasingly, Catholic schools are reaching out to lay professionals with particular talents to serve on boards and share in governance matters and strategic planning.
Challenges, too, remain, he added. "In the two years since we issued our call on behalf of Catholic schools," he said, "over 400 additional Catholic schools have closed or consolidated." He pointed out, however, that "during the same period, over 70 new schools have opened." States in the southeast and far west are the areas experiencing the greatest growth in Catholic schools.
"Our vision is clear," he said. "Catholic schools are a vital part of our teaching mission of the Church. The challenges are many but our spirit and our will to succeed are strong. We must respond to challenging times with faith, vision, and the will to succeed because the Catholic schools' mission is vital to the future of our young people, our nation and, most especially, our Church."