Before the Cross | Vibrant parishes hand on the faith to future generations

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

Sid Hastings

Vibrant Catholic parishes continue the teaching ministry of Jesus. They help adults, youth and children in diverse regions of our archdiocese come to a deeper understanding of God's plan for human life and for all creation.

During my first two years year as archbishop of St. Louis, I visited many parishes and schools and learned a lot about the rich tradition and history of Catholic education in this part of the country. Who could fail to be impressed by, and grateful for, the heritage that is ours? We all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the women and men -- clergy, religious and laypeople -- who built our parishes and schools and who have sustained our commitment to Catholic education for nearly 200 years in spite of many obstacles!

Catholic schools are powerful instruments of evangelization -- helping members of the Catholic community and others from many diverse faiths, cultures and economic backgrounds grow intellectually, personally and spiritually as members of the one family of God. Catholic schools are also vital to the social ministry of the Church -- through the assistance they provide to students and families in need but also in their commitment to teaching social justice and to providing students with opportunities to serve others.

Catholic schools contribute directly to the health and vitality of the Church in St. Louis. Along with parish religious education programs, youth ministry and other means of lifelong faith formation and education, our Catholic schools provide religious education classes, sacramental preparation, liturgical and prayer experiences, and opportunities for Christian witness and service. They help form the faith community, and they challenge us to look beyond our own needs to the urgent needs of individuals, families and society at large.

A vibrant parish does not have to have a school, but it does need to be actively engaged in handing on the faith. It should also encourage families to send their elementary and high school-age children to Catholic schools wherever possible. Why? Because every study that has been conducted in the past 50-plus years clearly demonstrates that Catholic schools are our best instruments of evangelization and faith formation. We have excellent PSR and youth ministry programs in our archdiocese, but they do not have the same access to children and youth that our schools do. That's why parishes should support Catholic schools in every way possible, including financial support, in order to help students and their families grow in their understanding and practice of our unique way of life.

Just because a parish has a school doesn't guarantee that it is fulfilling its responsibility (given to us by Christ) to hand on our faith to others. To be truly successful, Alive in Christ, the school must be growing -- in its Catholic identity, in enrollment and in its financial stability. Here are some questions to assess your parish's vitality as a center for handing on the faith:

• Is lifelong faith formation a priority for your parish? How are you handing on our Catholic faith to adults, young adults, youth and children?

• If you have a Catholic school, is it growing in its Catholic identity, enrollment and financial health?

• What opportunities for catechesis and religious formation do you provide to elementary and secondary students who do not attend Catholic schools?

I am sincerely grateful to all the pastors, parish and school administrators, teachers and staff in our archdiocese who work so hard to keep our schools Alive in Christ! I'm also thankful for all the parents who make great sacrifices to send their children to Catholic schools -- and for parishioners in all regions of our archdiocese whose gifts to their parishes, schools and the Annual Catholic Appeal make a Catholic schools education possible for children who otherwise could not afford it.

May the Lord sustain us as we strive to make our parishes and schools vibrant centers of education and faith formation for generations to come.

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