Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix has issued a clarion call for Catholic education that focuses on its central mission: the evangelization of young people.
“The most loving thing a Catholic school can do is to share with each person the living Jesus Christ,” Bishop Olmsted writes in a recently published apostolic letter.
Promulgated on March 3, the feast day of St. Katharine Drexel, Bishop Olmsted’s letter “Evangelizing through Catholic Schools” identifies five ways Catholic schools assist the Church’s mission of evangelization:
- to be a place of encounter with the living Jesus Christ,
- to be places of Spirit-filled community,
- to impart a Catholic worldview through the curriculum,
- to assist students in becoming free, and
- to send students out as missionary disciples to transform the culture.
‘Far more than public schools’
The evangelical mission of Catholic schools is especially important today, Bishop Olmsted explains, because of widespread cultural changes, we can no longer assume “that a Catholic has had a meaningful encounter with Jesus Christ if he has received the sacraments of initiation and participates in Mass each Sunday.”
Catholic schools are the ideal remedy for this lack of encounter. As centers of evangelization, they assure that “all students have the basic Gospel message proclaimed to them, are confronted with a choice, and then given the freedom and help to make a response in faith,” Bishop Olmsted writes.
Sharing the Gospel with students is precisely what makes Catholic education distinct from its secular counterpart, he says: “Catholic schools are far more than public schools with religion class and morality added. Rather, the ethos of a Christian education vivifies and unites the totality of the school’s curriculum.”
Catholic education provides students with “a way of seeing the world that is full of beauty, wonder, truth and goodness,” he adds.
Moreover, Catholic education not only raises the questions “What is man?”, “Why is he here?” and “What is he for?”, but it also provides the answers found in the Gospel.
“This is the antidote to an education that is fragmented, utilitarian and frequently devoid of real beauty,” Bishop Olmsted writes.
Importance of community
It is the “joy and responsibility” of Catholic schools to give students “a purposeful world willed into being by the creative love of our Heavenly Father,” says Bishop Olmsted.
However, because students cannot respond to the Gospel until they have heard it, Catholic schools must first establish “through hospitality and kindness” a community that will allow students to develop a relationship of trust with a disciple of Christ who can introduce them to Christ Himself.
Built through the joint efforts of parents, teachers, administrators and students, the community of a Catholic school must “reproduce the ‘warm and intimate atmosphere of family life,’” as the Vatican has said.
After forming an intimate community that introduces students to Christ, Catholic schools will impact the wider community.
Bishop Olmsted explains that the evidence of the efficacy of a “truly Catholic school” to fulfill the evangelization mission of the Church is “the fruit that is borne in the lives of its graduates.”
“When Catholic Education is what it is called to be,” he says, “it has the power to set the world on fire.”
An education saint
Bishop Olmsted shared the apostolic letter on the feast day of Saint Katharine Drexel, an American saint who changed the educational landscape of the entire country.
Canonized on October 1, 2000, by Pope Saint John Paul II, St. Katharine established the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in 1891 and donated her significant inheritance to establish 145 missions and 62 schools in underserved populations, as well as Xavier University in New Orleans.
Read more at Cardinal Newman Society