Regardless of where they come from or how they arrived, the first day of school is a fresh start for students and a reminder of the important role Catholic schools play in our Church, communities, and in the lives of our students.
As a student at Boston College High School and then again at Fairfield University, like many Catholic schools, the school year began with the Mass of the Holy Spirit -- a tangible reminder that the Spirit is at work in our lives and a reminder to keep our hearts and minds open to the work of the Spirit. In the upcoming weeks, tens of thousands of students in Catholic schools across the archdiocese will start their year in the same way, thinking and praying about what the year will hold and calling to mind the presence of the Spirit in their lives and school.
On the first day of school, some students will be dropped off after arriving home late the night before, eeking out the last days of summer on the Cape or in New Hampshire. Others students will arrive by public transportation, traveling for hours each way on city buses and trains. Many will be escorted to their classrooms by two loving parents excited to see their child blossom. Some will arrive alone, their parents already at work for hours, struggling to make ends meet. Regardless of where they come from or how they arrived, the first day of school is a fresh start for students and a reminder of the important role Catholic schools play in our Church, communities, and in the lives of our students.
Catholic schools are a reflection of our Church at her best. Throughout the year, leaders, using their talents in the service of others, will meet students and families where they are and help them grow. Educators, working tirelessly for students' wellbeing, will teach a rigorous curriculum, guided by the Gospel. Students, coming to see the love of Jesus Christ manifested in themselves and in others, will study the history and teachings of our faith. True evangelization will happen; the Spirit will be alive in the classrooms, hallways and athletic fields.
Every Easter, our Catholic schools share when families come into the Church, some with no faith tradition, others from a different faith tradition and still others having been baptized in the Catholic faith but fallen away. Although a high-quality education initially drew families to their Catholic schools, their experiences with Catholic education drew them to the Church.
Just as Catholic schools are vital to our Church, they are also critically important to our local cities and towns. As the second largest education system in the Commonwealth, Catholic schools provide a great service to local communities. For example, in the city of Boston, 10 percent of school-age children attend Catholic schools. If Catholic schools were to go away, the impact on both families and communities would be catastrophic.
Catholic schools' most important impact, however, is how it directly changes the lives of at-risk students and families. For the over 4,000 students supported by the Catholic Schools Foundation each year, their Catholic education is the path out of poverty. It is the opportunity to recognize and use their God-given gifts and abilities. These students, the majority of whom are living below the poverty level in single-parent homes, are not statistically likely to succeed, and yet all but three graduating CSF Scholars went on to two- or four-year colleges last year. Of the three who will not attend college full-time, one will join the military, one will join a trade union and the third will work and go to school part-time.
So as these students return to school and a new year presents a fresh start, let us call on the Holy Spirit to guide the leaders and teachers, strengthen our communities, and inspire the students, opening all of our eyes to the love of God.
Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, www.CSFBoston.org.