Popes do not often have high levels of engagement with the world of K-12 Catholic schooling, but Benedict XVI will be long remembered and often quoted by Catholic educators in the United States.
“How beautiful are the footsteps of those who bring good news” (Romans 10:15). Saint Paul wrote those words to Christians in Rome, but it was Pope Benedict XVI who spoke them to a group of Catholic educators. The occasion was a pastoral visit to the United States in April 2008.The venue was a conference hall at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
With this biblical phrase first formulated by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 52:27) and then quoted by Saint Paul, Pope Benedict praised the dedication and commitment of Catholic educational leaders, including teachers, principals, diocesan superintendents, religious educators, university presidents, and professors.
It was a grand and blessed moment for all involved in the ministry of Catholic education, for such high praise does not often come from such a high office.
His Holiness offered additional words of support and encouragement to vowed religious women and men, urging them to stay committed to educational ministries and especially not to abandon Catholic schools, which he characterized as “an outstanding apostolate of hope.”
Such a resounding endorsement from the Pope himself served as a great inspiration.
Citing the sacrifices made by countless vowed religious women and the religious communities and congregations they founded to serve in Catholic schools, Benedict XVI called for a renewed sense of sacrifice in our day in order to meet the material, intellectual, and spiritual needs of millions of students. Addressing the financial challenges of many Catholic schools today, Benedict spoke forcefully about the future and a way forward:
“[Catholic schools] provide a highly commendable opportunity for the entire Catholic community to contribute generously to the financial needs of our institutions. Their long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that they are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.”
U.S. Catholic educators, especially those serving in K-12 Catholic schools, will never forget the Pope’s encouraging words and pastoral visit.
Rev. Ronald Nuzzi, Ph.D., is senior director of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program in the University of Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education. A priest of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, Father Nuzzi is a nationally recognized author and speaker on the Catholic school system in the United States.
The remarks of Pope Benedict XVI about Catholic schools in April 2008 contributed inspiration--and the title--for the 2009 report of the Notre Dame Task Force on the Participation of Latino Children and Families in Catholic Schools. See the report, titled To Nurture the Soul of a Nation: Latino Families, Catholic Schools, and Educational Opportunity, which gave rise to the Alliance for Catholic Education's "Catholic School Advantage" campaign.