Catholic schools and lessons on the sacredness of life from PBS midwives

Last week I spent three days in our nation’s Capital, but not touring monuments and museums. On January 17 and 18, I participated in a meeting with 30 other bishops from around the country sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Secretariat of Catholic Education and organized by the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) of Notre Dame University. The topic of the meeting was Catholic Grammar Schools, the strategies and perspectives that are needed to preserve and strengthen them.

This coming week we will observe Catholic Schools Week. Learn, Serve, Lead, Succeed is the theme. You are invited to visit a Catholic School and experience for yourself the difference a Catholic education makes in the life of a child. Not only are our academic results impressive but also our students learn an essential truth — they are uniquely created in the image of God. Our Schools translate that into a philosophy of education in which each student is respected, encouraged and challenged to fully develop his or her God-given potential by growing in knowledge and in truth.

Bishop Dennis Sullivan is seen during a meeting to discuss Catholic education at U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops headquarters in Washington Jan. 17. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

Our Schools are institutions of contemporary learning. Their success is evident in academic achievement and character formation, both of which are reinforced by the religious atmosphere and Catholic culture which pervade the School. Catholic Schools serve both a civic and a religious function. Did you know that our graduates are more likely to vote and to attend Mass? The leadership roles our graduates have taken on in society are quite impressive. Catholic education encourages each student to achieve for him/herself and for others. The presence of Christ makes this happen; He makes the difference between a Catholic education and a sectarian education. The atmosphere and environment in a Catholic School are charged with Him.

For two days the bishops addressed the challenges that are faced by our Schools and considered some action steps that are necessary and critical for the future of our Schools. I am so very glad to report that many of these are already underway in our diocese. “Forming Hearts and Minds, A Plan for Catholic Schools in the Dioceses of Camden,” which resulted after a yearlong planning process, addresses many of these action steps. You can read the report on the diocesan website at www.camdendiocese.org. The bishops’ conversation was enhanced by the presence of education professionals who shared insights and academic studies.

Please know that you too can be an ambassador for a Catholic School. Invite parents to come and visit the regional school your parish sponsors.

We know that for many people, the challenge of Catholic education is often the cost. While many of us were educated for free in years long gone by, that is simply not an option anymore. But we are always open to trying to help as many people as we can. If you can help in any way to defray the costs by a contribution or by sponsoring a student, call my office at 856-583-2808.

My trip to DC was fortuitously timed. It gave me the opportunity to be in the city for an equally important event. And one that is very near and dear to the faith taught in our schools.

On Friday, January 19, I stood on the corner of New Jersey and Constitution avenues viewing the 44th March for Life. I chose this corner to make it easy for the faithful from our New Jersey diocese, who give witness to the sacredness of life by participating in the March, to find their bishop. I enjoy speaking with them, cheering them on, and am so proud of their commitment to life that I want to thank them for taking a public stand on behalf of human life.

For the past 45 years the law of our nation has allowed the legal destruction of unborn human life. This is a festering scar on the history of this great country. However, that there are many, including the brave souls who marched on January 19 and others unable to be physically present at the March, who disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize the taking of unborn life, is a testimony to their conviction that in our country the inalienable right is the right to life. This is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence which guarantees the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

The mystery of human life is related directly to the mystery of God who is the source of life. God is its origin, its destiny and its sustainer. Human life is created in the image of God. Every human life is sacred from conception to natural death. The right to life is the foundational principle of human rights. Life must be protected in all its stages of growth and in all its varieties of conditions. This annual March is a much needed statement about the protection of innocent life from all that threatens it.

It is terribly challenging to sustain a culture of life within our culture. Terribly difficult for parents who are the first teachers of their children to instill in their offspring respect for life. We are surrounded and inundated with a culture whose music and media show little or no respect for life. Murder, rape, family disintegration and sexual abuse are celebrated in song and on stage and on screen. To educate people concerning the sacredness of life and to encourage them in a culture of life are very challenging goals. Our children and our youth are constantly exposed to and influenced by so much that is against life. Yet, we must be quite intentional in this matter of the sacredness of human life. We cannot allow what dominates the culture to inform, persuade, influence or convince us, especially our young.

I do not watch much television but never miss the wonderful BBC series “Call The Midwife.” It is about the ministry of Anglican nuns and midwife nurses in the East End of London in the early 50s who are on call to provide pre- and post-natal care. The Sisters and the midwife nurses value both unborn life and life after birth. They radiate this in their work with the mothers, fathers, families and the new born infants. They affirm the value of life. The scenes of birth with its terrors, joys, tears and pains are quite real. Each show deals with a life issue and does so with life-affirming value for human life. I recommend this show to you as an affirmation of the sacredness of human life.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the Roe v Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1973 which has resulted in more than 59 million aborted babies and a rampant anti life culture which has spiraled out to other evils such as euthanasia, abuse of women and children, inadequate health care, especially for the poor. It was very, very encouraging to see so many young people from our parishes and schools on the March for Life. Perhaps, with them in the future our country will reverse the present evil and guarantee the right to life to everyone. Photos and videos from the March are available for viewing on the diocesan Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Yes. Those were three full, busy but worthwhile days in Washington, DC. Hopefully, sometime soon I will be able to return to visit the iconic monuments and wonderful museums in the District.

Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan, D.D.
Bishop of Camden