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Living the Truth in Love - The Identity of the Catholic School

Catholic Schools Week this year extends from Sunday, January 29, until Friday, February 4. The theme for this year’s celebration is again Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service. Many events will take place in our Catholic schools during this week which celebrate our schools and demonstrate our commitment to them. We may have fond memories of our attendance at a Catholic school and appreciate the influence it has had in our lives. Times have changed over the years, and the challenges and demands of running a Catholic school are very different from the past. However, their effectiveness and influence are the same. A great deal of sacrifice is required to run a Catholic school today, but the sacrifice pays off in the lives of young people and in their futures.

There are 20 Catholic schools within the Diocese of Palm Beach – 12 elementary, three high schools, three preschools and two independent Catholic schools. More information on these schools can be found on our diocesan website. Catholic schools are a priority in the life of our Diocese. A Catholic school not only imparts an excellent education and formation to a young person, but does so in the context of faith and in the celebration of the sacraments, which are at the core of the life of the school. We have outstanding Catholic schools within the Diocese of Palm Beach and want to continue to do our best to ensure their life as part of our living and the handing on of our faith to our young people.

In March of this past year, the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education issued a rather extensive document on Catholic schools, entitled The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue. The document is a practical guide for all schools which ensures the identity of what it means to be a Catholic school, especially in the face of so many current challenges. This new document, which had been in preparation since 2015, not only sets a solid foundation for what determines the Catholic identity of a school, but also places the responsibility upon the Diocesan Bishop to determine what is or is not in keeping with this identity. The document makes very clear that teachers hired to teach in a Catholic school are to be “outstanding in correct doctrine and integrity of life.” While it is possible to have staff and teachers who are not Catholic, they “have the obligation to recognize and respect the Catholic character of the school from the moment of employment.” All in all, the new document makes abundantly clear that our Catholic schools are Catholic, pure and simple. The inclusion of non-Catholic students, and even staff, does not affect their Catholic identity.

Pope Francis has been a great proponent of Catholic schools. He has often spoken about them and emphasized their importance in his vision of the Church for today. In April of last year, he said, “Catholic education and formation are more important now in an age awash in information often transmitted without wisdom or critical sense.” When Pope Francis met with the De La Salle Christian Brothers in May of last year, he emphasized that Catholic schools should be Catholic, not only a name, but in fact. He stated that, “The Christian, in the school of Christ, is first of all a witness, and he is a teacher to the extent that he is a witness.” On his visit to the United States in September 2015, Pope Francis, to demonstrate his support of Catholic schools, made it a point to visit Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem in Bronx, New York.

We are very proud of our fine Catholic schools in the Diocese of Palm Beach. As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, the theme of the week, Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service, fits each one of them extremely well. Faith is the center of our Catholic schools, especially at a time when faith is so much needed. Faith in a loving God who created us with a vision and purpose is essential to all of our school activities. Faith in God, who became one of us in Jesus Christ, and who remains with us in the Church through the sacraments, is an anchor that holds our schools in place. Excellence, in all areas of achievement, is primary for our schools, and that excellence is experienced in all of our schools’ accomplishments. Service, what sends us forth as believers in Jesus Christ, and service to our young people as well, is at the foundation of our schools. Service to others is a fundamental value which is instilled in young people through their Catholic education.

I would like to offer deep gratitude to all those who gave of themselves in faith, excellence and service, to our young people through our Catholic schools within our Diocese. I thank our Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Gary Gelo, and all his staff for their extraordinary commitment to leadership within our schools. We are so blessed by their work. I thank our principals with all their teachers and staff, who give of themselves out of love and faith to the young people they serve. I thank our pastors for their leadership and support of our Catholic schools, which require a great deal of sacrifice today. I thank our parents for entrusting their children to our fine schools, and I thank all of our donors, many so generous, who believe in our young people and the faith, excellence and service of our Catholic schools. Again, our Catholic schools are primary in the life of our Diocese, and that priority is based on faith, excellence and service.

Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
January 27, 2023