The education system is always evolving and the latest educational trends will change, but in Catholic schools there remains one constant -- love.
Last week, a member of the Catholic Schools Foundation Board of Trustees pulled me aside after a meeting and asked, "Do you know what the secret sauce to Catholic education is?" She paused, but before I could respond, she said, "Love."
This board member came to our work through objective reason. She reviewed the educational landscape, looked for opportunities and positive outcomes for the most in-need students and saw that in almost every scenario, low-income students who went to Catholic schools performed better over time than their peer groups in public schools, both academically and socially. Although she is Jewish, she saw this and wanted to support Catholic education. She wanted to be part of this important work and has been doing so generously for over a decade. However, it was not until last week that she became convinced of the "secret sauce" -- love.
Education is a complicated business. There are test scores, rankings, new technologies, pedagogies, and different academic trends every week. When I was in school, there was a rush to offer Japanese because it was on the fast track to become the world's most spoken language. Today, Japanese just barely cracks the top 10 on the list of most spoken languages. The education system is always evolving and the latest educational trends will change, but in Catholic schools there remains one constant -- love.
There is no argument that Catholic schools must provide high-quality teachers and rigorous academic programs. However, these alone are not enough. Catholic schools must be places where Christ is truly present. Where every child feels welcome and has the firm belief that they are filled with a potential that comes from a God who loves them. Despite what may be going on in their lives, their school is a place of love and hope.
Regardless of their family situation, socioeconomic status or immigration situation, students in Catholic schools know that they are loved. Each day, they walk into a building that was established to share the Good News of the Resurrection. These students are challenged not only academically, but they are also challenged to love. To love themselves and see value and their own worth when others may put them down because of where they are from, how they speak, their religion, or the color of their skin. Catholic schools are true reflections of the Church. Students thrive in Catholic schools because these schools live the command of Jesus Christ to love one another.
It is easy to focus on the challenges in front of us; the complexities of life. It is easy to look at our government, our Church and our communities with a sense of despair. Yet, as the Gospel from Sunday, May 19, reminded us, it is pretty simple. It is about love. Love your neighbor, love yourself, believe in a God that loves you. This is the core message of the Risen Christ -- there is hope and a loving God who knows you and is always with you.
So, perhaps the board member didn't go far enough. Love isn't just the "secret sauce" to Catholic schools. It is the key to following Jesus Christ and making this world a better place. We are just fortunate enough to see Christ's command lived so well and so simply in Catholic schools.
Imagine the positive results in all aspects of our lives if we took to heart the command of Jesus to "Love one another." There are no qualifications here. It is really that simple.
Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, www.CSFBoston.org.