A couple of weeks ago Pope Benedict XVI addressed a group of representatives of Italian Catholic educational centers. While his talk focused primarily on Catholic schools in Italy, he did make some observations of a wider scope.
According to a Zenit article His Holiness concluded that
The Catholic school has an important role ... as it is the instrument of the "Church's salvific mission" in which "the close union is achieved between the proclamation of the faith and the promotion of man."
This article drew a response from a deacon of the Archdiocese of Mobile who wrote,
Two of my children live where a new Catholic high school has just been built: tuition is $10,000 a year. They feel that Catholic schools are elitist! Are they wrong?
Shortly thereafter the mother of 4 graduates of Mobile Catholic elementary and high schools replied that, while Catholic education is expensive,
None of our 4 have come through history regretting the Catholic education they received. After all of the complaining they may have done while suffering through adolescence, and its demands, each one has said at one point or another, that the value of their faith-filled education has helped them to understand basic human dignity. Does that sound elitist?
These charges of elitism arise, of course, from the fact that not all families can afford the cost of a Catholic education for their children. They would lose some of their steam if Catholic schools could be made more affordable and would disappear entirely if they were free.
Free? Before anyone decides I'm out of my mind the latest letter in this chain assures us that this is not a fantasy and shows us how it can be done.
I live in the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, and we have an amazing success with stewardship. Our Catholic schools are full! We have over 3,000 high school kids in 3 schools and every grade school is full. The reason? Not because we all have tons of money, but because this diocese is entirely run on stewardship. We give of our time, talent, and treasure. We are asked to tithe 8% to our parish and there is no tuition charged to attend any of the Catholic schools. Each parish pays for every student that wants to go. Those whose children are grown and still tithe are helping to pay for the younger ones. It works wonderfully!
Here in DOR we talk about stewardship, but to what end? With the diocese having lost almost 25% of its church-going members within just the last 7 years, many of the more cynical, myself included, see the heightened emphasis on stewardship as a rather transparent attempt to get more treasure out of the fewer numbers of people who remain in our pews.
And as far as the time and talent aspects of stewardship are concerned, DOR lost all credibility when it recently came to light that it had brushed aside credible offers of help from qualified people who, as far back as 30 months ago, realized that the MCCS System was in serious trouble. DOR didn't even have the courtesy to answer their letters.
True stewardship, as the Diocese of Wichita has shown, makes spreading the faith one of its primary missions. Success in that mission comes by way of a strong system of Catholic schools attended by a large majority of the Catholic students in the diocese.
When DOR wakes up to that fact it can start talking to me about stewardship.