My dear sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus:
Already our young people are looking to the month of June and the end of another academic year. As I review the past school year with its many challenges, I am aware that amid the many complex issues in today’s society, in our Diocese our Catholic schools strive to keep their Catholic identity strong.
This very topic is the subject of the Congregation (Dicastery as of June 5, 2022) for Catholic Education’s recent Instruction entitled “The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue.” The Instruction clarified “that the educational action pursued by the Church through schools cannot be reduced to mere philanthropic works aimed at responding to a social need, but represents an essential part of her identity and mission” (No. 10). The First Teacher is Jesus Christ in whom the Catholic school establishes its identity: “i.e. its reference to a Christian concept of life centered on Jesus Christ” (ibid, No. 20).
The union of the Church’s mission of teaching and evangelizing is both necessarily supported by and quite dependent upon the administration and faculty of our Catholic schools. More than filling an occupation, those who serve in our schools are called to be missionary disciples, a vocation to teach as Jesus taught. “The life of the Catholic teacher must be marked by the exercise of a personal vocation in the Church, and not simply by the exercise of a profession” (ibid, No. 24).
In order for a Catholic school to fulfill its first mission, namely to reveal the person of Christ and to create the atmosphere that allows the student to encounter Christ, the Instruction emphasizes: “Everyone has the obligation to recognize, respect and bear witness to the Catholic (faith) identity of the school…. This applies to the teaching staff, the non-teaching personnel and the pupils and their families” (ibid, No. 38). Our Catholic schools are called to be communities of faith where the name of Jesus is reverenced, the Gospel is proclaimed and voices are raised in prayer.
As communities of faith, our schools work in cooperation with the parents, the first teachers of their children in the ways of our Catholic faith. Likewise, in proclaiming the truth of the Gospel, our schools are called into communion with the Church. Indeed, “the ecclesial nature of Catholic schools, which is inscribed in the very heart of their identity as schools, is the reason for ‘the institutional link they keep with the Church hierarchy, which guarantees that the instruction and education be grounded in the principles of the Catholic faith and imparted by teachers of right doctrine and probity of life (cf. canon 803, Code of Canon Law)’” (ibid, No. 50).
Certainly, what is said of our Catholic schools is also true of our teachers in our religious-education programs who work so diligently to share the Catholic faith with our young people. With a true cooperative spirit, these two educational ministries of our Diocese will play a very important role in the Eucharistic Revival that will commence throughout the United States on the Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi, June 19, 2022, and continue for a three-year period. It is my hope that our Catholic schools and religious-education programs will celebrate the abiding presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament with special Masses, Eucharistic devotions, and catechesis. Our offices will provide updates and resources about this extraordinary time in the life of our Diocese.
The Week of May 2 has been designated Teacher Appreciation Week. On May 3, a special Mass was celebrated at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in observance of this special week, praying for all in the apostolate of Catholic education.
The Instruction of the Congregation for Catholic Education refers to the Church as mother and teacher, recalling that “Pope John XXIII opened the [Second Vatican] Council by expressing the Church’s irrepressible joy of being a universal mother: Gaudet Mater Ecclesia (Mother Church Rejoices). The icon of Mother Church is not only an expression of tenderness and charity, but also holds the power to be a guide and a teacher” (ibid, Nos. 8-9).
With this image of Mother Church before our eyes, we invoke the intercession of Our Mother Mary in this month devoted to her, asking that she guide our children and young people to her Son, the First Teacher, Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Asking Our Lord’s blessing upon you and assuring you of my prayers, I remain, with gratitude for the privilege of serving you as your shepherd,
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester