August 17, 1987

Pastoral Letter on Catholic School Education

This fall, in almost 230 Catholic schools throughout this Archdiocese, almost 70,000 youngsters will begin another school year. In the 40 high schools and 187 elementary schools of this local Church, young people of all ages, races, nationalities and economic groups will once again have an opportunity to combine an excellent education in the three R’s with a privileged opportunity to grow in their knowledge and practice of their holy faith. The Archdiocese of Newark, this year, will be the sponsor of the fifth largest Catholic school system in the United States of America. That fact presents each one of us with a challenge and a great cause of satisfaction. 

Before anything else, I would want to express my deepest personal gratitude, and that of the entire Archdiocese, to those who, by their sacrifices, their talent and expertise and by their love, will once again make the miracle of Catholic school education a reality here in these four counties of northeastern New Jersey. 

Without the strong and courageous leadership of pastors and principals, the presence of our schools would be seriously in doubt. Without the remarkable centuries-long tradition of education of our religious sisters and brothers in giving so much of their lives to the maintaining and the continuing excellence of these educational institutions, Catholic school education would never become the wonder of our neighbors and one of the outstanding accomplishments of our American experience. And, of course, especially in our own particular moment of history, the sacrifice and the dedication of so many lay men and women, whose commitment to our Catholic schools has meant the difference between success and failure, is truly one of the great love stories of our time. To them, with full realization of the burdens which they carry and the sacrifices they are called upon to make, I offer my deepest appreciation and my thanks. 

Catholic schools have always been a very special part of the life of the Church of Newark. As far back as 1854, my first predecessor, Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley, wrote in the Metropolitan Catholic Almanac, St. John’s Church, Newark, and with most of the churches in the Diocese.” What a tremendous accomplishment that was in the early, difficult days of our young Diocese of Newark. It is not surprising, however, since a document dating all the way back to the eighteenth century indicates that a “primitive schoolhouse was erected, and schools, supervised and supported by Church authorities, established in all of the larger settlements of East Jersey.” Thus, the connection between Catholic education and Catholic parochial life has always been a very close one — one which is filled with promise for our future. 

The great growth of this Archdiocese over the past century and a quarter gives ample testimony to the importance of quality education for our young Catholic people, coupled with an understanding and knowledge of their faith. When Bishop Bayley took on the critical task of providing Catholic schools for the youth of this diocese, it was not simply a matter of teaching doctrine. Bishop Bayley believed that through the establishment of Catholic schools, the young men and women of the Church would be prepared to take their rightful place in American society. It was his dream that Catholic moral teaching and values would make a difference, and Catholic school graduates would be able, because of this foundation in value-centered education, to make that difference in the American society in which they lived. The dream of James Roosevelt Bayley is till our dream today. It is a legacy of hope for the Church and our nation in which I put my faith. Authentically Catholic schools can, and still do, make a difference. Their mission today — to educate Catholics in the faith that they may help to shape the twenty-first century according to the values which we cherish — is still vitally important at this moment in history. 

The fact is that a value-centered education, strong in its commitment to moral teaching and ethical norms and geared in every way to the establishment of a community of faith and love within our Catholic school community, is all the more necessary today. Realistically, it is also all the more difficult. Anyone who has helped to prepare the budgets of our institutions or, indeed, anyone who is responsible for the budgets of a family, will be well aware of the specific challenge which we face. There are three basic factors which constantly concern me in our commitment to the fostering of authentically Catholic schools. One is the rising costs for the upkeep of buildings and facilities, many of which are in need of update and renovation. The second is the need to make sure that our curriculum is totally up-to-date and that new programs, which are available in the educational system of our country, are also available to all the youngsters in our Catholic schools. The most pressing need, however, and one of which I am tremendously and acutely conscious, is the necessity of providing our teachers, both religious and lay, with a remuneration which is proper and fitting to their important service. 

All these concerns are present in the unfolding of the future of our Catholic schools. They must always be considered within a very important and historical context: our Catholic Church has always been committed to the poor and, in a special way, to the immigrants who have come to our country. The necessity of providing them with this invaluable gift of a thoroughly Catholic education has always been and will always, please God, continue to be a major priority of this Archdiocese. It is because of that that each of us is called upon to make sacrifices. 

In the Pastoral on the Economy of the American Bishops, there is a significant paragraph. I’d like to quote it to you. “We bishops commit ourselves to the principle that those who serve the Church — laity, clergy, and religious — should receive a sufficient livelihood and enjoy the social benefits common in our nation. These obligations, however, cannot be met without the increased contributions of all the members of the Church. We call on all to recognize their responsibility to contribute to the support of those who carry out the public mission of the Church. The obligation to sustain the Church’s institutions … falls on all the members of the community, because they are public trusts; the obligations is not just on the users.” 

Catholic schools are, therefore, the responsibility of all the people of our Archdiocese. The concept of “co-sponsorship” for our schools must be explored and implemented. By that I mean the principle that every parish — whether or not it has its own school — must help to share the responsibility to preserve and develop Catholic school education in this Archdiocese. Those parishes which sponsor Catholic schools must never feel that they are carrying this challenge alone. I ask our parishes without schools to recommit themselves to their responsibility for Catholic school education. 

The Archdiocese is a family, and one of the things that a family does is educated its children. Sometimes this requires a substantial proportion of the family’s assets, but it is done because of the love which binds the family together. All of us are called upon to realize the needs which we have as the family of this local Church and our responsibilities to build the future. The great strength of the Catholic Church in our country has been extraordinary men and women who have understood the demanding challenge of Catholic faith and life because they have been schooled from their earliest years to accept it and to put it into meaningful practice in their own lives. Tomorrow is in our hands, too, and we dare not let it slip away because of an unwillingness to accept a challenge or because of shortsightedness in seeing the future and its needs. 

I have not doubt that the goal is worth the effort. The Decree on Catholic Education of the Second Vatican Council reminds us that the aim of our Catholic schools is to create an atmosphere enlivened by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity. It is this atmosphere, in which each youngster is helped to develop his or her own personality, that enables our children to grow into that new creation they became in baptism. Because of this, for our youngsters and for all youngsters who have been given the precious gift of the faith, Catholic school education is a pearl of great price. 

I truly recognize that it will not be possible for us to educate every single one of the young men and women of our Archdiocese within a Catholic school environment. For those who for one reason or another do not attend our Catholic schools, I pledge all my efforts and my dedication to ensure that through quality programs of religious education they will receive all they need to learn and to live their lives in a truly Catholic way. But the very fact that we cannot reach all our youngsters through Catholic schools does not excuse us from doing the very best we can to offer quality, authentic, value-centered Catholic school education to our families. We must continue to strive to reach as many as we can, in as perfect a way as we can. We must make sure that, for those whom we can educate in our own schools, the foundation of our future is laid with loving care for the glory of God and their own eternal happiness. 

Work with me and pray with me, my dear friends in Christ, that our dedication to the Catholic school system of this Archdiocese may be as strong as it was in the days of Bishop Bayley, and that his prophetic dream may come true in our day, too — that Catholic school graduates may help to shape the future of our nation and make a difference for this beloved country and for the world. 

With the promise of my daily prayers, and my deepest gratitude for your sacrifices and for your love, I am 

Faithfully yours in Christ, 

Most Reverend Theodore E. McCarrick
Archbishop of Newark