BRIMMING WITH HOPE | Alexander Hamilton and the renaissance of Catholic education

The musical "Hamilton" has captured the attention of most of the nation and the Nelson household hasn't been exempt. As a lover of history, I didn't need much convincing. My high school daughter first brought it to my attention and we began playing tracks as we were driving around town. The music is catchy and the lyrics clever, but I think one of its greatest achievements is the ability to tell us a story we thought we knew from a different perspective.

With an interest in early American history rekindled, I also started reading David McCullough's book "1776." In both the book and "Hamilton: An American Musical," I was struck again with how uncertain this whole American experiment was at the outset. With 240 years of hindsight it's easy to see the whole period as a foregone conclusion, forgetting the struggles of our founding fathers.

While Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, and others weren't sure of the outcome, they recognized that their present situation was unsustainable. Still, it was hard for many colonists to leave what they had always known, life under the British crown. Our early leaders and citizens didn't always agree, but with faith they worked through their difficulties together to create something new and vibrant. This great experiment in democracy succeeded even beyond their wildest dreams and has been the aspiration of millions around the globe.

Today, our Catholic schools face a similar situation. While we have many areas in the archdiocese where Catholic education is thriving, we also have areas where the demographic and financial realities have made the current system unsustainable. As a result, the educational landscape needs to change and evolve to ensure we can meet the needs of our Church within the current realities of our communities. In some cases, we have relied on short-term "Band-Aids" in the hope that conditions would change, but short-term fixes can't get us out of long-term problems. "Band-Aids" can't continue to provide the quality of education we expect from our Catholic schools. Our children deserve the highest quality schools we can provide. Our goal is not simply to maintain a specific number of schools, but to ensure the quality and vibrancy of those we will have in the future.

That is the work the School Oversight Committee was commissioned to do. The St. Louis Review has done a fine and thorough job reporting on our planning efforts to meet current challenges. However, secular media have reported these changes and recommendations as simply school closures. What often is not reported is the extraordinary funding that has been made to keep these schools open up to this point. Good stewardship of our resources and the children entrusted to our care requires that where these extraordinary contributions are not making an impact, we must look for new and creative ways of thinking and investing so we can create schools of quality that are magnets and beacons in our community.

Just like the early Americans, in some cases that will mean the fear of leaving behind our old ways of thinking and operating parochially for a wider meaning of what it means to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. While we honor the past and how it has shaped us, it's our turn to reinvigorate and strengthen Catholic education for the present day so it can help shape future generations.

Our Catholic schools are on the verge of a renaissance and we're prepared for the bold new steps to get us there. In the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton, "We are not throwing away our shot!"

Nelson is superintendent of Catholic education for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. 

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