Forming Minds and Hearts
Sister Ellen Rose Coughlin, SSJ
Superintendent of Schools
Although summer will not officially end until September 23, for students returning to school it unofficially ends with the beginning of the school year. Beginnings are important. Often they are accompanied by renewed enthusiasm, refreshed dreams and the promise of new possibilities.
Pope Francis recently spoke about the importance of Catholic education. “I would ask you to be concerned in a special way for the education of children, supporting the indispensable mission not only of the universities, important as they are, but also Catholic schools at every level, beginning with elementary schools, where young minds and hearts are shaped in love for the Lord and his Church, in the good, the true and the beautiful, and where children learn to be good Christians and upright citizens” (Address to Bishops of South Korea, August 14, 2014).
Our Catholic schools offer quality academic programs, but quality academic programs are available in public schools as well. Our schools’ programs address the whole person, but more and more public schools are addressing components of the whole person, the most notable addition being their acknowledged commitment to character education and ethical behavior. Our Catholic schools are often close knit “communities” where a safe, secure and orderly environment support student learning. Many of the public school districts where our schools are located are relatively small and offer the same benefits. Thus, the question becomes why does the Church support Catholic schools? What does the Catholic school offer that is unique and proper to its mission that cannot be found in public education?
The primary answer to that question resides in a “who” rather than a “what.” The most important aspect of a Catholic school is its foundation in Christ. Our schools are first and foremost places where students meet Christ. From Him flows the unique marks of a Catholic school, namely a supernatural vision of life, an awareness of the dignity of the human person, the experience of a faith community, a curriculum which acknowledges the relationship between faith and culture and the personal witness of teachers and administrators.
Catholic schools require dedicated administrators and teachers. I want to take this opportunity to thank them for their commitment to our schools which more often than not is accompanied by a personal financial sacrifice. We depend upon them almost entirely for the accomplishment of our mission: to form the minds and hearts of our students in the love of Christ and His Church. Theirs is a supernatural calling and not simply the exercise of a profession. “The nobility of the task to which administrators and teachers are called demands that, in imitation of Christ, the only Teacher, they reveal the Christian message not only by word but also by every gesture of their behavior” (The Catholic School, #43). We are indeed blessed to have administrators and teachers who are willing to assume this noble task.
The commitment of our administrators and teachers often involves taking advantage of professional development opportunities. Mrs. Kathy Behrens, principal at Trinity Catholic in Massena attended the ACE Principals Academy at Notre Dame last summer. The Principals Academy brings together a group of Catholic elementary school principals from across the country to strengthen leadership and build community while engaging in professional development. This past October Mrs. Behrens was offered the opportunity to serve on the design team for this summer’s academy. Working with colleagues from across the United States via phone, email and an on-site meeting at Notre Dame, Kathy was an integral part of the planning and implementation of the Principals Academy this summer.
The NCEA offered superintendents the opportunity to nominate teachers of mathematics in grades K-12 to participate in its Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative workshop to develop units for Math that infuse elements of our Catholic faith. Mary Ann Margery from Augustinian Academy, Carthage and Karen Reynolds from Seton Catholic, were nominated and chosen to participate in the workshop in July. The NCEA expects that participants take the information they learn back to their local areas and assist others in learning how to implement the strategies and ideas gleaned from the workshop.
One more piece of good news. Three of our schools, Seton Catholic, Plattsburgh, St. Mary’s in Ticonderoga and Holy Family in Malone were recipients of $18,000 technology grants. The schools will use the grant money to expand the vision and use of technology within their respective schools through the purchase of technology equipment and professional development for teachers.
During this school year I am confident that our Catholic school students will begin, whether new to our schools or returning for another year, to build upon their knowledge of and love for Christ. The ideas and values we want our young people to experience are not abstractions. They are found in a person, Jesus Christ. The school year is greeted with renewed enthusiasm and refreshed dreams and promises of new possibilities because Christ always graces us with new life and hope. Enthusiasm abounds because hope abounds when Christ is in our midst.