Editor’s note: Diocesan Administrator Msgr. J. Terrence Fitzgerald gave the following homily during the Mass for Professional Educator’s Day, Sept. 22, 2006, in St. John the Baptist Church, Draper.
I am certainly honored to celebrate Mass this morning as you gather to celebrate your common mission as Catholic School educators and to enrich yourselves professionally. The fact that we celebrate the Holy Eucharist during this morning signifies the uniqueness of your ministry. I want to thank Father Terence M. Moore, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish, for his hospitality. Likewise, I want to acknowledge the presence of the staff from the NCEA, the National Catholic Education Association. We have a long relationship with the NCEA, and we thank you for your service to the educational mission of our Church. I would also like to thank Holy Cross Sisters Catherine Kamphaus, our superintendent of Catholic schools, and Genevra Rolf, assistant superintendent of Catholic schools for organizing this in service day.
No doubt each one of you deserves to be given a place of honor, to sit at the left or right hand of the Lord in the kingdom of heaven. However, as Matthew describes in the Gospel, the kingdom has not yet come and there is a sign over the gate specifying the price of admission: "...Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be ...servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be ...slave."
The mission of Catholic education requires such a service attitude and total dedication. You are expected to work long hours and to go beyond the call of duty to care for each child or young person entrusted to you. You are asked to work within small budgets and often to help raise the finds to keep the school doors open. Yet yours is a wonderful vocation. I hope that you feel honored and humbled that the Lord has entrusted you with such a gift. I commend you for your personal commitment to the Catholic education of the young people of our state.
You are a part of a long tradition of great educators committed to Catholic education. It has been 130 years since the first Holy Cross Sisters arrived in this territory to open the first Catholic schools. Over the years, schools have closed and new ones opened, as populations changed. Our mission, our values, and our focus on leading people to God’s kingdom have not changed. That is why so many have sacrificed so much.
I did a quick survey of our archives to get some idea as to how many have dedicated themselves to Catholic education in our school system over the past 130 years. Some 1,300 religious women have served our Utah schools. To date, over 2,000 lay women and lay men, as well as some 500 priests and brothers have taught, coached, counseled, and administered our schools. Add to those the custodians, cafeteria workers, secretaries, and the volunteers. Imagine the parents and family members involved, the pastors and parishes that have sacrificed to provide support. We have had the opportunity in 130 years to touch the hearts and souls of thousands of young people and their families.
In St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, we are reminded of what is true of our vocation. "I... urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received." That means we strive in the midst of our imperfections to live lives according to the moral expectations of our faith. Only then can we teach as Jesus taught.
What Saint Paul outlines is not easy. We have to live with gentleness and patience. What teacher, coach, or administrator doesn’t go home some nights wondering if there is no limit to the patience required. Yet as Saint Paul reminds us: "...Grace is given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift."
We are to bear with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. That is at the heart of the community of faith: working collaboratively, supporting one another, and being concerned for the school family and welfare as well as for what goes on in your own classrooms or offices. As teachers in Catholic schools you are called to be prophetic – to proclaim the core message of Jesus.
I want to mention briefly two of the many challenges I think we face today.
If "The Da Vinci Code" had value, it was to point out how much religious illiteracy there is regarding the fundamentals of faith. Too many confuse fantasy and fiction with faith and history. What we teach in our Catholic schools, the textbooks we use, the materials we send home, as well as the parent programs we sponsor, have significant influence. Students in our schools should learn the fundamentals of our faith, the history of our tradition, the great saints who model our values. Studies indicate that of those people who leave the Catholic Church, the majority have never known the fundamentals of our faith. We have wonderful resources at our disposal with "The Catechism of the Catholic Church," our libraries, and access to many fine Catholic websites. The environment of our classrooms, the hallways of our schools, should speak to who we are, and the values we cherish. In our tradition, environment, we know, teaches and forms.
I attended a workshop a while back in which a religious woman explained why she retired from Catholic education. I think the story was shared at an NCEA convention. She said: "I taught second graders for 38 years. One day someone said, ‘you know, Sister, you have always talked like a second grader and now you walk like one.’ But the final straw," she said, "was when the pastor visited the classroom and asked students about the meaning of Easter. A little girl raised her hand and said, ‘Easter is when Jesus flies through the sky and delivers baskets of candy to those who have been good.’ The pastor said, ‘You did remember Easter was about Jesus.’ Then, a fellow raised his hand and said Easter is when Jesus comes out of the ground and if he sees his shadow he goes back in for another six weeks.’ That was all I could take," she said. "Now I sit home and pray for Catholic school teachers."
Faith illiteracy is all too real a challenge. We must certainly be aware of it and do our part to alleviate it.
The second challenge is one Pope Benedict XVI has mentioned a number of times. That is our need to support and hand on the great heritage of the humanities that is our heritage. That heritage provides a human dimension to our faith tradition as Catholics, a heritage the Church has preserved and enriched for centuries. In this era of emphasis on technology and science, with the expectations of the national "No Child Left Behind" Act, all very important, too many have pushed the humanities to the periphery. The Pontiff sees the knowledge and love for good music, art, literature, and drama as fundamental to building respect for human life, the environment, reconciliation, and world peace. The humanities have always been at the heart of Catholic education, a tradition we don’t want to lose. Perhaps you feel you have enough to do without worrying about the faith life, environment, and human formation of students and their families. Yet that wonderful challenge is at the heart of our calling from God if we are to teach as Jesus taught.