Several years ago, I was driving down a local highway and glanced at a business advertisement which read, “Often Replicated, Never Duplicated.”  This memorable phrase stuck in my mind since then, but not in the context for that particular business.  Rather, it brings to mind my belief in our nation’s Catholic schools.

Since 1810, parishes and Catholic communities across the United States have opened and sustained Catholic schools providing quality faith-based academic programs.  In recent years, our country has seen an increase in the opening of charter schools and alternative public schools in hopes of providing an experience that duplicates Catholic education.  As a life-long Catholic school student, however, I can attest this duplication is near impossible because the journey and transformation one experiences is unique to the Catholic school.

This year, over 1.6 million students in over 6,200 schools will celebrate Catholic Schools Week.  This event is an annual celebration of the life, history, and continued impact Catholic schools are making on our local communities and global society.

A dividend is defined as, “return or reward.”  Catholic Schools, including Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, provide dividends for life and remain one of our nation’s greatest treasures.

First, Catholic schools remain committed to instilling knowledge into the hearts and minds of students.  However, the learning that occurs within the classroom walls goes beyond simple mathematical equations and proper uses of grammar.  The educational program is understood to be driven from a higher power, a greater good and cultivated to make a positive and lasting difference in our society.    Like Archbishop Oscar Romero, Catholic schools believe they are part of a process educating a future not our own.  In his words, “We plant seeds that one day will grow.  We water seeds already planted knowing that they hold future promise.”

Secondly, Catholic schools encourage discipline in their students.  The school promotes self-discipline in addition to a student’s spiritual and academic formation.  For generations, Catholic educators have helped students understand the value of maintaining a healthy prayer life while also understanding the merit of maintaining a high academic discipline.  On a daily basis, stress is placed on acquiring self-discipline while nurturing the feeling of accomplishment and pride in doing one’s best.  It is because of this discipline that our Archdiocese of San Antonio achieved a 99% graduation rate.

Next, the Catholic school teaches morals to our future Church.  We now find ourselves living in a society that promotes dishonorable, immoral, and unethical behavior placing a greater emphasis on selfishness and instant gratification.  The Catholic school helps combat this disease greater than any social prescription.  President George Washington once said, “Religion and morality are the essential parts of our society.”  Catholic school students learn that good moral choices must be made not because of the positive consequences that may result or the valuable lessons that may be learned, but rather because our faith expects them to be made out of love for God and neighbor.

Finally and most importantly, Catholic schools provide students with the education of the faith.  The Catholic Church has been firm in her belief that, “The Catholic school forms part of the saving mission of the Church, especially for the education of the faith” (The Catholic School, 9).  The school’s pastor, principal, and educational staff remain committed to working with the parents, the first and primary educators of the child, in helping students understand the value and importance of a strong faith life.

It is through these Dividends for Life – Knowledge, Discipline, Morals, and Faith – that the Catholic school remains a unique experience.  Attempts are often made to replicate the Catholic school, but fall short of duplicating it.

The late Pope John Paul II, one of the greatest advocates of Catholic education, said, “Faith leads us beyond ourselves.  It leads us directly to God.”   As we begin our 2020 Catholic Schools Week may we never lose sight of our shared faith journey.

Michael Fierro