FACE TRIVIA NIGHT—Bishop Edward Rice joined members of the Notre Dame Regional Catholic High School Community for FACE (Families for the Advancement of Catholic Education’s) Trivia Night in March. The event was held at Our Lady of Mt Carmel Regional Catholic School, IL, a grade school and parish in Herrin, IL. Notre Dame is the closest high school to several parishes in southern Illinois, so they have a group of parents that transport students via bus to and from Notre Dame everyday. (The Mirror)
As we come to the end of May, we complete another graduation season. You may not be aware of the fact that as Bishop, I preside over the graduation ceremonies of our three Catholic high schools: McAuley, Joplin; Springfield Catholic, Springfield; and Notre Dame Regional, Cape Girardeau. Sometimes people will say it must be taxing to have to sit through those ceremonies. I always respond, “Not at all!” I enjoy the graduation ceremonies and I truly feel I am privileged to listen to the various addresses from our students.
As a sample, one student-speaker said, “On this road of life, in moments when we may feel alone, perhaps we may feel that we cannot possibly keep going, and even feel that life itself is a hardship. In those moments, remember that you are not alone. We must keep at the forefront our faith in God, and understand that in times of uncertainty and fearful trials, he is there to hear and understand us.” Another student said, “Growing up in a Catholic school is an opportunity I will cherish for the rest of my life. … Whether it be our talents, our friends, or our family, the one true source of goodness is the ‘Awesome God’ in our lives. On behalf of our graduating class, I want to offer a thank you to God for everything he has given us.” Finally, another student said, “We must remember what this school has taught us; We must have faith in God and never worry about his plan. We have been taught that we are his children and will never be abandoned by him, no matter the mistakes or trials we face.”
To listen to these striking words, coming from graduates of our Catholic high schools, was a real shot in the arm for me. As I listened to the various addresses, my heart was truly filled with gratitude. Catholic education is hard work. Catholic education is expensive. Our Catholic schools do not receive financial support from the government, and so our parents pay twice: taxes for the public school system as well as Catholic school tuition.
Catholic education is essential in passing on the faith. Regardless of the obstacles, it is worth it. Why? Because as I said to the graduates, there is a battle being fought for the minds, the hearts, and souls of our youth. That battle is being fought in the culture and in the classroom. I thank the parents that support our Catholic schools, not just with dollars, but with their volunteerism and sacrifices. I thank our principals and administrators for all they do. I thank the teachers, they are on the front lines of the battle in the classroom.
At the heart of their efforts, our schools and PSR programs fulfill the priorities of our diocese: to grow in holiness, form intentional disciples, and witness to the faith. We inform the intellect, but we also form the mind and soul, and when we do that well, we teach our young people to reflect on the “matters of the heart,” in living their lives as Catholic Christians. It is those “matters of the heart” that give the deepest satisfaction to the human person. While we expect that our academic programs provide our students the tools needed for a successful life in this world, it is the “matters of the heart,” i.e., growth in holiness, their formation as intentional disciples, and their ability to witness to the faith that makes for true success in the eyes of God.
I am grateful for the work of our Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Deacon Rob Huff, along with his assistant, Debra Owensby, for their diligence in leading our Catholic schools. Over these past couple of years, I have asked Deacon Huff to initiate Theology of the Body in all of our schools; to emphasize the complementarity between faith and reason; and look for ways to enhance our Catholic identity. I was once asked if it could ever be possible that our schools were “too Catholic,” and that some Catholic parents would choose to not send their children because of it? My response was twofold. First, we can never be too Catholic. Catholic identity is more than just having a crucifix on the wall or a statue of the Blessed Mother in every classroom. We want the beauty of our teachings to be appreciated and the fullness of our faith to be embraced and lived. Second, if it is lacking, we need to work with our parents and help them to grow and appreciate the fullness of our faith and serve as support to them in living their Catholic identity. We do not lower our standards to reach our people but rather raise our people up to the standards of the Church. The work of Catholic formation is essential, just as mercy, love, and compassion.
As we grow in our love of the Eucharist, may we ever sing:
“O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine.”
Published in the May 26, 2023 issue of The Mirror.