By Cynthia Zook
Our diocese along with all the dioceses of the nation will be celebrating National Catholic Schools Week from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6. The annual celebration puts a spotlight on the tradition of Catholic education through the lens of its theme: “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.”
The theme encompasses several concepts at the heart of a Catholic education.
First, schools are communities — small families in their own right but also members of the larger communities of home, church, city and nation. Faith, knowledge and service are three measures by which any Catholic school can and should be measured.
Our 11 schools celebrate with Masses, open houses and other activities for students, teachers and principals, families, parishioners and community members. Through these events, our schools focus on the value Catholic education provides to young people and its contributions to our church, our communities and our nation.
The following daily themes and celebrations will take place during Catholic Schools Week 2016. Please refer to your parish bulletins for opportunities to join in the celebration!
Celebrating our parishes
Our Catholic schools benefit all year long from the religious guidance, prayers and support parishes provide. Some schools in our diocese have additional support of a neighboring parish which is an added blessing to our schools. Many schools start the week by devoting a Mass to Catholic education. Parishioners and community members are invited to parish-centered events that feature the outstanding academic programs, religious education and service opportunities within our schools.
Celebrating the community
A central aspect of Catholic education is learning the importance of service to others. When students take part in service activities — both local and beyond — they demonstrate the values and faith they gain through their Catholic education and learn how to make the world a better place. When students participate in volunteering in the community, they gain an appreciation for how they can continue to serve others their entire lives.
Our students regularly serve the poor at soup kitchens, collect for various food and clothing drives, reach out to the homebound with greeting cards, visit the area nursing homes and assisted living facilities, provide clean-up for the neighborhoods, contribute to global initiatives such as the water and heifer programs and voice their importance for school funding at the state capitol.
Celebrating our students
Schools celebrate students by planning enjoyable and meaningful activities for them and recognizing their accomplishments.
One favorite diocesan effort is the annual Diocesan Spelling Bee for grades 3-8. Additionally, schools enjoy competition with various academic challenges such as learning games (“Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-grader?”), science projects and living history museums, to name a few.
We encourage students to reflect how the benefits of Catholic education and the grounding in faith, knowledge and service will help them develop to their fullest potential.
Celebrating the nation
On National Appreciation Day for Catholic Schools, students, families, educators and other Catholic school supporters communicate the value of Catholic education to government leaders.
Schools share information with leaders on the significant contributions Catholic schools make to the nation and their role in preparing students to be good citizens. Letters are sent to our senators asking for their support of educational funding for all students.
On a state level, principals and pastors visit legislators annually at the state’s capitol during the legislative session. Students pray for the nation and recognize all those who serve it.
By focusing on faith, knowledge and service, Catholic schools prepare children to use their God-given talents to the fullest later in life.
Students explore the many life paths that enable them to use their talents well in the service of God and others — by answering the call to a religious vocation, by nurturing a family through sacramental marriage, by volunteering in church activities and charities or by pursuing a career that makes a difference through the lens of our Catholic faith.
Many of our schools invite guest speakers such as religious sisters, priests, seminarians, medical personnel, diocesan employees and other community workers to give testimony to their vocational call.
Celebrating faculty, staff and volunteers
The backbone of Catholic schools is the dedicated teachers. On this day, schools also recognize the priests, administrators and staff who support teachers in their important work and thank the parents, grandparents, alumni, parishioners and school board members who provide volunteer service. Together, we make great things happen on a daily basis in our Catholic schools.
Parents, guardians and other family members play a vital role in Catholic education. Not only do they volunteer at the school, they instill values and expectations for academic excellence in their children at home.
Schools throughout the diocese plan family fun activities including skating parties, family dances and game nights. We acknowledge the role of families in Catholic education and celebrate their contributions to the success of our schools all year long.
Come join in the fun!
Cynthia Zook is director of schools for the Diocese of Duluth.