Friday, January 27, 2017 - Updated: 6:00 am
A new television series this year has gathered a lot of critical notice and pretty good ratings. Called "This Is Us," the drama on NBC tells the story of a family but in a different way. It’s an extended story of "triplets" — a white girl and boy, then a black baby, abandoned at the hospital, taken in at infancy when one of the three babies did not survive.
I won’t fool you. It is contemporary Hollywood. So faith is not only irrelevant. It is non-existent. And at least so far in the show, there is no understanding of faith, no understanding of God, no hint of faith in any of the characters. Totally secular.
The makeup of family — how we grow together, live together, love together, support together — is compelling. It’s all there. "This Is Us" is told through a living past, into our present.
Each year in the Church of Pittsburgh as part of a nationwide Catholic event, we take a week to celebrate our Catholic schools. This year our week of recognition begins Sunday, Jan. 29, and runs through Saturday, Feb. 4. The theme for this year’s celebration is "Catholic Schools — Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service."
During the week, schools will celebrate with Masses, service projects, special academic and artistic shows, athletic and family events, and fund-raisers — not just for the schools but often for one of the many charitable organizations in the diocese, such as the Chimbote Mission in Peru, Catholic Charities or food banks among others. Most important, many schools will hold open houses so that community members can learn more about the value of Catholic education.
The important thing is to take part. Check with your local Catholic school. See what events will be taking place. Get there. Soak it all up. I can tell you there is no healthier or happier environment than in our Catholic schools.
It’s a good time to celebrate. But it is also a good time to remember how much our Catholic schools remind us that "This Is Us." Our Catholic schools reflect the story of us — who we were, who we are and who we will be, but especially in the presence of Christ with and among us.
The old eight-room square institutional building that might have served as a school on so many parish properties at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century may not be the present model, but the story still needs to be celebrated.
The facts do bear repeating. Yes, we are not the size and scope we were in the 1950s in the midst of the post-war Pittsburgh Baby Boom. But the picture today is still strong. Pennsylvania ranks among the top 10 states in Catholic school enrollment nationwide, with more than 500 schools serving 151,000 students. The six counties of the Church of Pittsburgh serve roughly 18,000 students, making it the fourth largest system in the commonwealth. All the schools are accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. We are one of the first in the country to have all our schools accredited. So we are not shrinking violets. We are signs of the presence of Christ with and among us.
As I have said over and over again when talking about "On Mission for The Church Alive!", our mission is a story of growth and change; our story is on the pilgrimage. It’s our story of where we are going, all of us — personally and as the People of God together in the Church of Pittsburgh but in the presence of Christ with and among us.
Yes. Changes are coming in our Catholic schools. Yes. Changes are coming in our parishes. But since the birth of the church at Pentecost, that has always been our story — and it is a good story. All our history — "This Is Us" — is reflected in our Catholic schools down through the centuries here in the Church of Pittsburgh. We began with traveling priests visiting homes and missions, teaching the faith to the young, building on the flesh-and-blood nurturing from their parents. Sisters arrived and lay people got involved. Catholic education began in earnest.
After the Civil War, the growth in schools in every parish — in evidence since the earliest days of the diocese — exploded, an immigrant church teaching its immigrant children. Soon, lay mission catechists were taking Catholic education to the farthest corners of the diocese. This led to the church that many of us older folks remember from our own childhood.
Let me share with you one of my memories.
I am a kid again at St. Stanislaus Elementary School in Ambridge. It’s fifth grade and Felician Sister Mary Richard, a stickler for grammar in all its details — adverbs and adjectives, prefixes and suffixes, paragraphs and prepositions — are known as well as we knew our rosaries. Out in the street, the mayor blocks off the traffic so we could have a safe noontime playground. The Angelus rings and everything comes to a stop.
It’s all changed. That world is gone, though anyone who experienced it has it in their heart. And that’s my point. The Catholic schools we are celebrating this January 2017 are the Catholic schools of our heritage, the Catholic schools of our present, the Catholic schools of our future. Because I know that no matter the shapes and styles they might take to meet our needs in the years ahead, they will continue to be at our heart and soul. "This Is Us." No matter what the future looks like, I know that:
Catholic schools will be rooted in respect for the dignity of every individual life.
Catholic schools will be rooted in compassionate service.
Catholic schools will be rooted in evangelization, conversion and transformation.
Catholic schools will be rooted in solidarity and service to the poorest of the poor.
Catholic schools will be rooted in a future of educational excellence, and a future full of hope.
And what our schools reflect in small measure is who we are in large measure: The Church. The Body of Christ. On Mission. "This Is Us."