BRIMMING WITH HOPE | Trusting God in the Labyrinth

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June is a natural time to review the previous school year and look forward to the next. While school years are linear on a calendar, they ebb and flow continuously. Recently I shared with our elementary principals that a good metaphor for the past school year is that of the labyrinth.

Originating in Greek mythology, the labyrinth took on special meaning to Christians of the medieval age. It was symbolic of a pilgrimage and the great cathedral at Chartres, constructed around 1200, has one of the most famous inlaid in its floor. The labyrinth also represents the journey through life — sometimes feeling like we are getting very close to God and at other times feeling lost or confused.

Recently, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne earned a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. But those who know her life, recognize that it, too, moved in a circuitous path. She arrived expecting to start a school in St. Louis, but was sent by the bishop to St. Charles instead. Later she would relocate to Florissant, open a school in St. Louis, live with the Potawatomi people in Kansas, and finally return to St. Charles. St. Rose Philippine Duchesne certainly understood life in the labyrinth and her response was to be the "woman who prays always." When life presented her with a challenge, she prayed for an opportunity.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson asked us to do the same in February 2012. He cautioned, "Six years from now we can't reasonably expect to have exactly the same number of schools in the same locations," and he reminded us of the importance to plan together in positive, proactive ways.

This past year, we experienced the closure or reconfiguration of seven Catholic schools (one high school, five elementary schools, and one early childhood center). While this can be unsettling, it also marked a significantly different approach to facing our challenges — one inspired by Archbishop Carlson's vision. Rather than treating schools and parishes as islands unto themselves, we took a strategic approach to realigning schools, bringing groups together and making deliberate investments to create the school options we will need for the future.

This past year we began a Renaissance for Catholic education. The important work to provide new choices, more scholarships and stronger schools is continuing. None of the school changes mentioned above were made to cut funding for Catholic education. Instead, funds are being reinvested by the archdiocese and parishes in the coming year. This will support students at their new schools with innovative approaches — new governance models, additional programs, special scholarships and expanded services for students with special learning needs.

Even while dealing with long-term challenges we maintained our commitment to continuous improvement this past year. More than $10 million per year is provided to Catholic school families by archdiocesan-wide scholarship programs. The Roman Catholic Foundation is now providing Beyond Sunday grants to support innovation in our schools and religious education programs. In addition, the archdiocese increased support for students with special needs, provided new voter education and diversity awareness training to high school students, updated religious curriculum standards and hosted more than 8,200 Catholic educators at the NCEA national convention.

Catholic education is one of the Church's primary means of evangelization and faith formation. By taking steps to proactively and creatively address our challenges, we will ensure that it continues to be a vital force for the next century, illuminating the labyrinth of life for new generations of young people. 

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