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A message from the bishop

What 24 years in Catholic schools taught me

(March 2017)
My dear friends,
The 24 years I spent enrolled in Catholic schools had a tremendous impact on my life! My educational career
actually began at Hilliard Elementary Public School in Westlake, Ohio. At that time, in the late 1950s, Catholic schools didn’t have kindergarten, nor was it required. In first grade, I joined my sister Janet at St. Bernadette Elementary School, also in Westlake. The school was run by the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. I not only received an excellent education, but was also immersed in
Catholic faith, culture and identity. One of the highlights of my time at St. Bernadette came every June when the teacher handed out our final report card. The first thing I would check was the line in the right-hand corner of the card that said, “Promoted to grade ____.” If that line was filled in with the next grade level, the year had been a success! St. Bernadette School continues to this day to provide a fine Catholic education.
After grade school, I went on to St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, an all-boys school run by the Jesuits. I continued to grow in my Catholic faith. A good number of Jesuit priests and scholastics were on the faculty. I now realize how much patience and wisdom they possessed. Those years were filled with homework and study, but I also was introduced to the world of social concerns and justice and the
impact that current affairs could have upon a life of faith.
My next Catholic educational venue was the University of Notre Dame. Notre Dame was not immune from the social and cultural currents of the ‘60s and ‘70s; but if you wanted to continue to grow and learn about your Catholic faith, the opportunities were abundant. At Notre Dame, I first met with a vocations director to acknowledge a possible call to the priesthood. Father Tom McNally, CSC was just the person I needed to guide me through those college years. He was the homilist at my first Mass and drove up from Notre Dame to concelebrate my episcopal ordination in Grand Rapids 34 years later!
After graduation, I was accepted into St. Mary Seminary for the Diocese of Cleveland. Shortly after beginning my formation, I realized that this was where I was supposed to be. I continue to be grateful for those years of theology and spiritual and pastoral formation, and to the faculty who provided it.
After I served three years as an associate pastor, Cleveland Bishop Anthony Pilla invited me to study canon law at The Catholic University of America. Catholic University was a challenging place in the early '80s. The theological climate and contentious debates made me realize how controversial certain areas of Church life and teaching had become. My degree gave me the opportunity to teach in the seminary and work in the chancery for 20 years.
Catholic schools remain as important today as they were decades ago. The biggest challenge today is
the gap between faith and life. My years in Catholic schools led me to conclude that there can be no
“firewall” between faith and life. You learned about your Catholic faith and you lived it – in the classroom, walking down the hallway, at recess, lunch and dismissal. We prayed throughout the day and regularly attended Mass and confession. It’s hard for people to imagine students voluntarily getting up early to go to Mass before school and to go to confession perhaps 20 times a year (including in the summer), but that’s what often happened 50 years ago.
I believe Catholic schools offer the Church a perfect opportunity to integrate faith into our young
Catholics’ lives. Faith should permeate everything! It’s not only an hour-long commitment on the
weekends. Faith enables us to live productive and meaningful lives. It gives us the great joy of knowing
a God who loves us, forgives our sins and wants us to enjoy eternal life with Him in company with the
angels and saints. Catholic schools can help parents, who are the first and foremost educators of their
children, reinforce the treasure of knowing and loving Jesus personally and being confident enough
to share that knowledge and love with others. Many different voices of “evangelization” compete for
our attention today: consumerism, cultural trends, higher education, media, government, performing
artists, entertainers and athletes. These other voices can drown out the Good News, which is ultimately
the most important and life-giving reality.
Next school year marks the third year of the Bishop’s Catholic Schools Initiative; a strategic plan for the next five years will be announced this spring. My hope is that our Catholic schools continue to be places where students come to know, love and serve God and grow confident in their Catholic faith, identity and mission. I see a need for a greater emphasis on conscience formation. I would like to make our schools more accessible to children with special learning needs, as well as to those for whom tuition is a stretch. It’s my hope our schools will bind Catholic families more closely in love and allegiance to the life-giving Church where Jesus most surely can be found!
Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak