Diocesan schools head attended pope's address to educators - Catholic Courier

Diocesan schools head attended pope’s address to educators

During his address to Catholic-school educators April 17 in Washington, Pope Benedict XVI reminded his audience of the importance of their job to bring truth to young people, according to Sister of St. Joseph Janice Morgan, interim superintendent of the Diocese of Rochester’s Catholic schools.

Sister Morgan said she took away a message of hope and mission from the pope’s speech to more than 400 Catholic educators at the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center at Catholic University of America.

“Catholic education has got to go on,” Sister Morgan said. “We’ve got to find a way to continue and go on with what we have, and strengthen it to help the schools that may be at risk.”

It’s a message Catholic schools in the Diocese of Rochester may need as they prepare for the closing of 13 schools in Monroe County and another in Livingston County at the end of the school year.

Sister Morgan said the pontiff stressed over and over again that education was one of his highest priorities. In addition, she said he stressed that the financial bottom line should not be the driving force in Catholic education.

“He said we get caught up in the numbers,” Sister Morgan said. “It’s not the numbers. It’s not statistics. It’s the action of teaching the truth to the students.”

The pope noted that Catholic education has helped generations of immigrants rise from poverty into mainstream society. He said this was made possible through countless sacrifices made by religious sisters, brothers, priests and parents.

“This sacrifice continues today,” the pontiff said, according to a transcript of his talk provided by the Catholic University of America. “It is an outstanding apostolate of hope, seeking to address the material, intellectual and spiritual needs of over 3 million children and students.”

The pope acknowledged the great stress and risk that Catholic education has placed on the U.S. church, but he did offer one suggestion on how to stabilize Catholic education.

“We have to help people who want to give financially,” Sister Morgan said.

The pope noted that financial support of Catholic education by the entire Catholic community is highly commendable and could ensure their long-term sustainability. Sister Morgan noted that the pope called on educators to reach out, especially to the poor.

“Everything must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that (Catholic schools) are accessible to people of all social and economic strata,” Pope Benedict said. “No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.”

He reminded educators to uphold a Catholic identity in their institutions.

“Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics,” the pope said. “Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content. It demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates with the ecclesial life of faith. Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom.”

The pope stressed that society in general has high expectations for Catholic educators. Among these expectations are knowing that children are well-rounded, and that they are taught their Catholic identity and what their faith is all about, Sister Morgan said.

“The profound responsibility to lead the young to truth is nothing less than an act of love,” Pope Benedict said. “Indeed, the dignity of education lies in fostering the true perfection and happiness of those to be educated.”

Pope Benedict also brought up the topic of academic freedom, a subject that had put him at odds with some faculty of U.S. Catholic universities. The pontiff affirmed academic freedom, with a caveat.

“In virtue of this freedom, you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you,” he said. “Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission.”

He concluded his talk with a message of hope.

“Account for the hope that characterizes your lives by living the truth which you propose to your students,” Pope Benedict said. “Help them to know and love the one you have encountered, whose truth and goodness you have experienced with joy.”

Sister Morgan said she had hoped the pope would have time to take questions, but that he did not. She said one of her questions to him would have been how could he help educators to reach out to donors who want to support “Catholicity” in Catholic schools.

Sister Morgan said she also was very excited to meet Catholic University of America student Peter Osgood of Penn Yan in person during her visit to the university. Osgood’s winning essay about St. Michael School in Penn Yan earned him the opportunity to greet Pope Benedict personally.

Sister Morgan said the greeting was broadcast on large-screen televisions. Osgood then read his essay about his Catholic school, and the pope blessed the young man’s hands. Osgood will attend medical school next year.

“He was so caught up in the moment,” Sister Morgan said of Osgood’s meeting with the pope.

She said she also found herself caught up in the moment as she strained to hear the pope speak.

“I was leaning forward trying to get every word,” she said.

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