When I was in grade school, one of the things we learned in sixth grade, with Sister Mary Anthony, was the European custom of country shrines—images of our Lord or Mother Mary or any of the saints—built simply and placed along the roads or footpaths. The study of these sacramentals were part of a wonderful aspect of our Catholic school’s social studies curriculum, specifically the geography program. As we studied about the various places across Europe, in particular, we also discovered various ways in which our Catholic Faith was incorporated into daily life and culture of the people in a particular country. These shrines still exist and direct travelers to various towns and churches where they may find food or lodging and, more importantly, a beautiful shrine or church specifically dedicated to the patron saint of the area.
There are so many elements of my Catholic elementary education I recall with great fondness. I remember the way I was taught and the material about which the lesson was constructed. I still believe Catholic schools—especially our elementary and secondary levels—drive home integral lessons of the ways in which we learn about various subjects. In addition, we have the great opportunity to connect our Faith with the subject matter. Roadside shrines across Europe, for instance, have a tremendous effect on our ability to connect the dots that help us understand how the culture and civilization survive and are essentially communicated in any given part of the world.
Today, it seems, society is so fragmented and clearly disconnected from its Western European Christian roots. Many people have no idea of the development of culture in so many parts of the world. In one sense, the teaching of Western civilization is becoming a mix of modern secularism. Very sad.
I am, however, so happy to see the connection between Faith and culture being expressed in our diocesan schools. This is something about which we should all be proud. Before the pandemic erupted around us, I had the opportunity, during the last Catholic Schools Week, to visit some of our schools. I discovered for myself how programs of art, culture and communications are being effectively taught; assimilating Catholic values and education. Some particular programs for youngsters, in consultation with Ann Lankford, the diocesan director of Catechesis and Evangelization, are being established to associate Montessori educational methods with the teaching of sacraments and liturgy. These are rather impressive developments and will bear fruit in many parts of our school system—and they are fun!
It is wise to consider the importance of supervised learning from a parental vantage point. I have been a supporter of homeschooling for many years. During this time of pandemic, I am interested in what I hear on television regarding a “competitive learning system” at home from non-Catholic programs. I can support different methods of pedagogy and different modalities of learning, but I find I cannot follow a school program—either in the home or in the institution—that eliminates the necessity for connecting education with God. Catholic education is not, as I have said many times in the past, an “alternative” education system. Catholic education is still the choice—and the mandate—of the Catholic Church for Catholic parents and their children. Costs for operating our schools, whether it be for building upkeep, programs and curriculum development, textbooks and the ever-essential salaries for teachers, administrators and support staff, continue to rise—and will continue to do so. It’s the cost of maintaining a quality, first-rate, exemplary system especially here in the United States.
A question is being heard from many sectors of the United States these days about the viability of many aspects of American life in consideration of the COVID-19 pandemic. One part of this question centers on the ultimate survival of the Catholic school system in light of the devastation resulting from the pandemic. I certainly do not lay claim to clairvoyance, nor do I presume to have the ability to look into the mind of God for future events. I do, however, recognize the words of Jesus. He told us He would be with us until the end of time, and I trust His words. I also believe the gates of hell and the power of the devil will not prevail against the Church, founded by Jesus Christ. The Gospel and the life of Grace, therefore, taught, preached and lived by the Church, will continue to thrive until Our Blessed Lord comes again in His glory at the end of the world. The Catholic Church will proclaim this truth. The weapon of evangelization, held fast by institutions of Catholic education, will be the right arm of defense for the truth of Jesus Christ. In the fallout of this pandemic and any other evil that may befall humanity, the Catholic Church will teach the truth and liberate the ages.
Support our Catholic schools, encourage them to thrive and be not afraid!
Most Reverend William Patrick Callahan is the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse.
Published June/August 2020 Catholic Life issue