Students today are no different from the students of decades past. They are full of hopes, dreams, gifts, and talents from a loving God.
I told this joke to Cardinal Seán recently, and he was not impressed. Personally, it is one of my favorite jokes of all time but, apparently, Cardinal Seán has heard better material. My kids and wife would side with the cardinal.
So, this week, when one of our Catholic Schools Foundation (CSF) Scholars visiting our office stepped off the elevator and immediately asked me, "What did the zero say to the eight?" he made my day.
In addition to the joke, what really made my day was that when this young man came to CSF with 60 other Catholic school scholarship recipients from across the archdiocese for pizza and a trip to the Celtics game, it was a chance to see the profound impact of a Catholic education on the lives of young people.
When we met these students for the first time almost four years ago, many, including the young man who greeted me with the joke, had trouble talking to adults. They were kids, a little uneasy and unsure of themselves. Today, they are young women and men who are academically, socially, and morally prepared to use their God-given gifts and talents to transform their own lives and the lives of those around them. It was remarkable to witness the change.
Transformations like this do not just happen. They happen because Catholic schools are filled with committed teachers and administrators who foster a learning environment where the goal is not just academic success, but the formation of the whole person.
For years, the sisters, brothers, and priests gave their lives in service to Catholic education. Today, lay people make educating young men and women in Catholic schools their life's vocation, resulting in Catholic schools that continue to provide a transformative education for students and families. Unfortunately, unlike the religious women and men of years past, lay teachers aren't able to work for free.
Through the 1970s and into the early 1980s, every student received a "scholarship" to attend Catholic schools through the free work provided by the religious women and men. Their work reduced the costs of the schools and reduced tuition for all families. It wasn't called a scholarship, and nothing was expected in return. The religious women and men were a living endowment and helped make Catholic education affordable for all. However, as the number of people entering religious life has declined, so, too, has this living endowment for Catholic education. Meanwhile, the cost of running Catholic schools has increased, putting it out of reach for many families.
The young men and women who were with us last week were able to attend Catholic schools because donors to CSF have given generously to support Catholic education. Just as the lay teachers continue the excellent teaching and formation of students, benefactors are continuing the living endowment through their support. Without them, Catholic education is at risk of becoming a luxury for only those with resources.
Students today are no different from the students of decades past. They are full of hopes, dreams, gifts, and talents from a loving God. Catholic education gives life to this potential and provides for the future of our Church and our world. For Catholic schools to continue their vital work, it is up to those of us who benefited from a Catholic education and those who see the value of these schools to consider how we might become that living endowment that the religious women and men were for us years ago.
Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, www.CSFBoston.org.