“A mark of a truly Catholic school is the fruit that is borne in the lives of its graduates,” Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix said. “That fruit is to be shown in the missionary activity of its graduates, called and sent by Jesus to be salt and light in the culture around them, knowing that people and cultures die without Christ.”
The bishop’s apostolic letter “Evangelizing through Catholic Schools” was dated March 3, the feast day of the Catholic educator St. Katharine Drexel.
His letter said Catholic schools should be “a place of encounter with Jesus Christ” that can impart a Catholic worldview through the curriculum, help students achieve true freedom, and send them out as “missionary disciples to transform the culture.”
Many Catholic school students first must have a relationship of trust with someone who is a disciple of Christ, but once that is established “through hospitality and kindness,” he said, “the most loving thing a Catholic school can do is to share with each person the living Jesus Christ.”
Catholic schools help ensure that all students hear the basic Gospel message and are given “the freedom and help to make a response in faith.” Catholic schools “cannot exist for themselves.” Rather, the gospel demands that when students are well-formed they be sent out “as ambassadors of the truth and love of Christ.”
Bishop Olmsted reflected that true freedom of Catholic education is rooted in the truth and draws from Christ’s words from the Gospel of John: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
“A joyful and evangelized person is truly free to be and to live as a child of God,” he said, criticizing views of freedom that separate it from truth. He contrasted freedom with slavery to sin.
“When Catholic education imparts to students the intellectual and moral virtues to know the Truth and to love the Good (which are both ultimately found in God) it is giving students the gift of true freedom,” he said.
According to Bishop Olmsted, Catholic schools are much more than public schools with religion class and morality added.
“Rather, the ethos of a Christian education vivifies and unites the totality of the school’s curriculum,” he said, praising Catholic educators’ “noble vocation” to help young people discover who they are.
“May the parents, teachers and school children of our local Catholic schools — through their constant contact with Jesus the Word made Flesh — be inspired missionary disciples of His Kingdom,” Bishop Olmsted said.