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Catholic schools and evangelization

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'Our job as Catholic educators is to make God real in the lives of young people ... by teaching and by our own lives. Love is not a concept; it is an experience.'

Susan
Abbott

Over 5,000 educators assembled in Florida last month for the annual gathering of the National Catholic Education Association. Kathleen Mears, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Boston, attended and reports that evangelization is very much on the minds of her colleagues across the country. In Catholic schools, evangelization takes a two-pronged approach: evangelize the students in age appropriate ways -- from little ones through high school -- and evangelize the faculty and administration. More than just teaching about the Church's mission to evangelize, the schools strive to help their students and faculty become evangelizers. Speaking of the conference, Superintendent Mears says that evangelization was "not a foreign subject, spoken of by only a few, but by many (conference) speakers and participants." Boston is implementing an archdiocesan-wide pastoral plan that is rooted in evangelization, and our Catholic schools definitely have a part in this implementation.

Her experience at the annual convocation confirmed Superintendent Mears' belief that, "We (Catholic schools) are places of evangelization and everyone, from superintendents to teachers across the country, knows this." For many years NCEA supported parish religious education and priestly formation in addition to working with Catholic schools. After a year-long consultation process, they will now focus all their effort on Catholic schools, adopting a new tagline: "Lead/Learn/Proclaim." Mears sees this as another clear sign of the connection between Catholic schools and the work of evangelization.

Superintendent Mears offered evidence that evangelization is more than a topic, it is a call to action. In his homily at the opening liturgy of the convention, Bishop John Noonan of Orlando, told the gathering, "We're here to evangelize... spread the Good News of Jesus Christ."

Carolyn Woo, president of Catholic Relief Services, was the keynote speaker. Her address, "Mission of Catholic Schools for the World," teemed with the spirit of evangelization. She reminded the gathering, "Our job as Catholic educators is to make God real in the lives of young people ... by teaching and by our own lives. Love is not a concept; it is an experience." Her address was the subject of many tweets reminding educators of the importance of personal prayer: "When you can't figure it out, stop at chapel and things will be better!" and calling them to excellence: "Mediocrity is not a way to serve ... Always evoke the Holy Spirit!"

Superintendent Mears says that the work of Catholic schools is to "form saints and scholars." In addition to keeping Catholic identity at the top of the agenda, she named two other concerns that she hopes to address: increase outreach to the Latino community and support for students with different learning needs. Sharing experiences and ideas with colleagues at the convention provided encouragement in both of these areas.

At first, Catholic schools did not feel part of the work of Disciples in Mission, but that has changed. As a member of the Collaborative Support Team -- staff from the Pastoral Center offices who serve as consultants to collaboratives -- Kathy Mears facilitates communication among the schools, collaboratives, and the planning process.

Boston ranks 9th in Catholic school enrollment in the United States and there are always many projects and programs in the works. The Catholic Schools Office, and certainly the schools, are busy places, but Superintendent Mears said that it is important to provide opportunities for Catholic school teachers to learn about the New Evangelization. Ongoing collaboration between the Catholic Schools Office and the evangelization team from the Secretariat for the New Evangelization will help make this possible.

Kathy Mears began her work as superintendent on Sept. 15. Announcing her appointment last July, Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley said, "Catholic education is a priority for the mission of the Church." Because the Church exists to evangelize, Catholic education and evangelization are inextricably linked. The Catholic Schools Office will play a major role in helping parents, guardians, students, teachers, and administrators embrace the spirit and the work of evangelization.

SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.

Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.

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