By Dale R. Hoyt, Ed.D.
Since I became superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Hartford in 2004, a great deal of thought and energy has been used to create a road map that ensures spiritual and academic excellence and remains faithful to the Catholic ethos for education. I have been inspired by the pure talent, loyalty, dedication, commitment, partnership and support that our (arch)bishops, priests, consecrated religious, administrators, educators, parents/guardians, volunteers and alumni/ae bring to the ministry of Catholic school education.
Over the past year, our students have demonstrated many academic and athletic successes on both state and national levels. Students have been committed to fulfilling the directive of Matthew 25, “…Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40) by putting their faith in action to meet the needs and conditions of the underserved.
This past June at the Cathedral of St. Joseph, valedictorian Bridget Oei, from East Catholic High School in Manchester, challenged her classmates to do whatever God tells us to do.
“He may often ask us to do something difficult, something uncomfortable or even something just unexpected, but it’s from those experiences that we grow the most in holiness, compassion and character,” she said. “The next years of our lives will challenge and surprise us, but it will be our faith in God and our trust in his love that will prevent us from getting lost. So we must not be afraid to listen, and then we won’t be afraid to act.”
Bridget’s address truly inspired many to recognize why Catholic schools matter in the formation of faith.
Students graduating from Catholic schools will grapple with issues related to faith, human rights, health care, family structures, environmental sustainability, economic development and energy conservation. Therefore, the vision for Catholic school education must remain relevant in the church’s endeavors to educate the next generation of young people as faithful church and civic leaders. It is this vision that calls us to remain academically excellent in forming and educating students to encounter the living God in the search for knowledge, meaning and truth.
Pope Francis also stressed the importance that Catholic schools play in the New Evangelization. “Catholic schools, which always strive to join their work of education with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel, are a most valuable resource for the evangelization of culture” (Evangelii Gaudium, #134).
A recent research blog written by Mark M. Gray of the Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) affirms the importance of Catholic schools in contemporary society. In a national survey, CARA obtained feedback from the adult Catholic population: the pre-Vatican II generation (born before 1943), the Vatican II generation (born 1943-60), the post-Vatican II generation (born 1961-81) and the millennial generation (born 1982 or later).
The survey’s findings include the following:
The CARA findings contend that without Catholic schools, the next generation of church leaders would be more difficult to recruit. Furthermore, without Catholic schools, there would be an additional decline in church attendance and a tremendous loss of the opportunity to form hearts, build minds and transform the lives of our young people.
At this critical moment in history, when Catholic schools are challenged in their efforts to maintain financial viability and increase enrollment, there need to be courageous and ambitious conversations with thought leaders and new partnerships made to assist Catholic schools. These thought leaders may be parents, parishioners or other professional constituents who are passionate about Catholic schools, visionary, influential, risk-takers and strategic in their thinking.
Demographic data raises serious questions about the number of school-age children that we will be able to serve in the future. How many excellent Catholic school campuses can we grow and sustain based on the demographic shifts facing Hartford, New Haven and Litchfield counties? How will the Catholic community serve the poor with Catholic schools? How will the Catholic community, business leaders and legislators unite to recognize the significant importance of Catholic schools? What innovative models of Catholic school education can we use to address these challenges? In the upcoming months, we will convene these thought leaders and seek solutions, while keeping in the forefront the tremendous impact Catholic schools make on the church and society.
In 2012, delegates from each of the Catholic schools in the archdiocese engaged in conversations with research practitioners to create a plan to provide young people with core knowledge instruction and essential skills, rooted in faith, to succeed in today’s world. In 2013, a ministerial plan for Catholic schools, “2020 Vision: An Eye on our Future,” was published; it has been the guiding document in the Office of Catholic Schools and the network of Catholic schools by focusing on our Catholic identity and thereby achieving academic excellence. This document provides the best practices for the functionality of the Catholic school. However, it is not a document intended for determining the number of school campuses that can be supported by demographic data.
I know that these complex issues regarding funding, enrollment and school campuses can raise levels of anxiety and uncertainty. I intend the Office of Catholic Schools to be a resource for local leadership and governance, along with other thought leaders, to break new ground as we wrestle with finding solutions. I am, therefore, confident that, moving forward, we will fully examine how to strengthen the ministry of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Hartford and how to recognize the importance that these schools play in our church by providing an education for a lifetime.
Dale R. Hoyt, Ed.D., superintendent of Catholic schools, has a doctorate in education from the American International College in Springfield, Mass. He holds other graduate degrees in theology and education administration from Catholic institutions.