(From Feb 6, not published in The Leaven)
By Heather Nelson
Schools across the country celebrated the Church’s foundation in the New Evangelization: Catholic Schools.
The observance ran Sunday, Jan. 25 – Friday Jan. 31. Schools celebrated with masses, open houses, and activities for students, families and parishioners.
The focus for Catholic schools this year is to serve the underrepresented population within Catholic schooling.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released a report in November 2014 about the relationship between Catholic schools and underserved populations, mainly Latino Catholics. Archbishop George Lucas (Omaha, Neb.) and Bishop Daniel Flores (Brownsville, Texas) presented the report to the Fall General Assembly.
Archbishop Lucas said that Catholic schools are vital to the Church’s mission of spreading the Gospel message
“The New Evangelization calls us to open up an inviting space where God’s grace can take hold and bear fruit, to welcome the Spirit in ways that support conversion, touch the heart, and inspire,” Archbishop Lucas said at a presentation to the Fall General Assembly.
Using the New Evangelization, Catholic schools across the country can begin to reach the underserved populations.
Bishop Flores emphasized the importance of reaching out to the diverse populations, which is supported by Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium.
“Welcoming more children from diverse populations in our Catholic Schools, and particularly making an effort to reach out to underserved communities, is important for the future of Catholic schools and of our Church,” Bishop Flores said at a presentation to the Fall General Assembly.
Each year, Catholic Schools Week celebrates Catholic education. According to the report by the USCCB, Catholic schools are outperforming public schools in test scores, graduation rates, and college attendance.
Heather Huscher, principal at Saint Matthews Catholic School in Topeka, said that even with a rising Latino population, she hasn’t noticed significant change in the school. Huscher said that she noticed one or two Latino families bring others in.
Huscher said that Catholic Schools Week is centered on the core values: excellence, family and God’s love. The school ran programs that promoted these values during the week.
“We can catechize the family by getting them to buy into the idea that you’re not here for yourself,” Huscher said. “Kids, then, make the faith more their own.”
Kathy O’Hara, the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., introduced outreach to the underserved before hearing about the USCCB report. Based on information from Fr. Joe Corpora, O’Hara learned that there are many different ways to engage the Latino community.
“Some families may have a different understanding of [Catholic] schooling. In Mexico, Catholic schools are for the elite,” O’Hara said.
Schools should consider individual contact with Latino families rather than mere mailings, O’Hara said. She added that hiring bilingual staff would be beneficial in creating relationships with Latino families.
O’Hara remained positive about the ongoing development of the New Evangelization in the schools.
“Catholic Schools Week provides the opportunity for us to celebrate the success that we’ve had and to reaffirm the mission: that Jesus Christ be known and love by our students,” O’Hara said.