A focus on Catholic education

By John Brainard - Director of Diocesan Schools
We have once again celebrated Catholic Schools Week, a time when our Catholic schools, St. Columba in Durango, Holy Family in Grand Junction, St. Therese, and St. John Neumann in Pueblo, are recognized as vital communities of faith, knowledge, and service within our diocese. The value of Catholic schools was made clear by the Holy Father as well as the U.S. bishops.

For many years, Catholic Schools within the Diocese of Pueblo have focused on the values that so many are searching for in a quality education today: a caring safe environment, superior academic results, solid faith formation, and building of character. These are not part of an educational wish list. At St. Columba, Holy Family, St. Therese and St. John Neumann, these are daily realities shaped by tradition and commitment from students, teachers, parents, and clergy. We are all too aware of the sacrifices many families are making to provide their children a Catholic education. Many of these families are personified by the mom in Durango who took on a part time job during the day to keep her son in Catholic school. When asked why, she replied without hesitation, “It’s the right thing to do. Where else can I be assured that the Christian ethic that I value and cherish will be reinforced? Where else can I be sure that he will be challenged and academically prepared for a future that no one knows about yet? When I drop him off I know he is in good hands, safe and secure as possible, and I will be informed when something is not right.”

The academic achievement of our Catholic school students is reaffirmed by regular national assessments placing our schools in the top percentiles annually. The academic preparation of our Catholic school students is also recognized by our communities with public high schools competing for our students when they leave us at the end of middle school.  How many valedictorians, salutatorians, gold or silver Chord graduates built their academic foundations in our Catholic schools?   A Catholic student from Pueblo once shared, “South High School prepared me for my classes at college; but, my Catholic education enabled me to be successful in college.”  Her statement reflects our ongoing commitment to prepare our students for the academic and spiritual challenges they will face in the 21st century.

Those of us who teach at our Catholic schools know that in addition to a strong academic preparation, our students need to develop a sense of community and understanding of the importance of service to others. We have all read or heard the heartwarming stories of St. Columba, Holy Family, St. Therese and St. John Neumann student community service projects. The unselfish generosity of our students is exemplified by the community food and clothing drives, the “USB jump drive” for nursing students in Tanzania, or the Christmas Shoebox initiative with Catholic Charities. Our students also participate in activities that help develop a tangible understanding and empathy for the hardships others face around the world. The “Kids Walk for Water” project led by the Make a Difference Club at Holy Family Catholic School is an example of these type of activities. Mr. Aubert, the principal, explained, “We want to give our students a concrete representation of the challenge of getting water, let alone clean water, from somewhere other than a faucet.”

Finally and most importantly, Catholic educators are charged with forming within students a spiritual consciousness of God’s love and grace in the world around them. This means encouraging students to use reason, memory, and imagination to look at life intensely and rigorously regardless of the content they’re studying. In our Catholic schools, every academic discipline can be taught to develop and enhance a spiritual consciousness that not only influences what students know and are able to do, but also builds the foundation for the kind of people they will become in service to God.