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A New Hope: Catholic Schools and “The Force Awakens”

Friday, December 18, 2015

StarWarsBlog

A long time ago, in a diocese far, far away . . .

. . . women and men lined up outside movie theaters across the country, wearing costumes and waiting with breathless expectation for the most anticipated film in years. At last, the weekend had finally arrived in which the world could all witness the cinematic masterpiece that is Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Road Chip.

Just kidding.

I’m talking, of course, about Star Wars. It’s hard to escape. You can hardly go shopping, watch television, or even come to work without being constantly reminded that the Force . . . has awakened.

“Catholic schools are back in the spotlight, serving more students, more effectively, in more communities of need.”

And honestly, I don’t think you have to be a “Star Wars Super-Fan” to appreciate what’s happening here. There’s a beauty, after all, in seeing parents take their children—the age they were when they first saw A New Hope— to experience something that’s at once new and yet wholly familiar.

So at this point you’re probably wondering: What does all of this have to do with Catholic schools?

We all know the narrative. Since the year 2000, more than 2,000 U.S. Catholic schools have closed. At the risk of being repetitive, this was not a great time for Catholic education (and not a great time for Star Wars fans either, but that’s another story).

But now, with the advent of new and exciting Catholic school networks, funding models, and instructional technologies, Catholic schools are back in the spotlight, serving more students, more effectively, in more communities of need. There’s been, as some might say . . . a New Hope.

We often like to say Catholic school leaders are “world-builders,” and there are few “worlds” in the public imagination that spark as much interest and joy than that of Star Wars. This weekend, grown-ups and kids alike will pack theaters and, with any luck, be transported into a world in which they can gasp, laugh, and cheer alongside characters both new and familiar.

That’s not just movie magic. That’s the mark of a movement.

“Catholic education has some new heroes of its own, and like the marketing behemoth that is Star Wars, they’re here to stay.”

Catholic education is a movement too. One that—like Star Wars—must continuously reinvent and rethink itself constantly in order to recapture the imagination and interest of those whom it seeks to serve.

Will the new film be as good as the original trilogy? Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s not the point. No matter what, it won’t be the same, and it can’t be.

Han Solo won’t move as swiftly as he once did thirty years ago. Luke Skywalker, apparently, has a beard. And even if he plays a major role in the new film, he can’t do it forever. There’s a whole crop of (notably diverse) new heroes who will carry the torch. Catholic education has some new heroes of its own, and like the marketing behemoth that is Star Wars, they’re here to stay.

As Catholic schools continue to innovate and reinvent themselves, we must do the same to further build God’s kingdom and ensure as many children as possible can experience the world of Catholic education. That “Force”—the Holy Spirit—isn’t just reserved for Jedi.

It inspires us, it empowers us, and just like the Force—may it be with us.