By Carol Ripken
Catholic Schools Office
Diocese of Wilmington
As I contemplated the question, “What is the value of a Catholic education?” what immediately came to mind was the word “value.” Like so many English words there are various meanings depending upon contextual use. For example, “That painting has a value of $500.” “I value our friendship.” “What we value establishes our moral compass.” As we can see from the examples, the meanings range from “citing monetary worth,” to “something of true desirability or benefit,” to a “principle or quality that is essential.”
Where does the true value of Catholic education lie and what is its impact?
Research indicates that academic excellence is a hallmark of Catholic education. Catholic school students routinely surpass public school peers from similar socioeconomic backgrounds in state-and national-level academic benchmarks. Catholic schools are celebrated for promoting academic rigor; they encourage critical thinking, practical application, creative problem-solving, and the integration of digital learning into the classroom experience. Of those who attend Catholic high school, 99% graduate, and of those, 86% attend 4-year colleges. Those who attended Catholic high schools are twice as likely to graduate from college compared to their public school counterparts and typically enjoy a 10% higher earning potential in the workplace. It is also significant to note that the poorer and more at-risk a student is, the greater the relative achievement gains in Catholic schools.
Catholic schools recognize that enrichment activities and co- and extra-curricular activities are fundamental to a well-rounded education. Most activities stimulate creativity/ingenuity, promote a healthy, balanced lifestyle and/or healthy competition, allow students to explore their passions, and/or emphasize sensitivity and service to others; all activities foster spiritual and moral development through camaraderie and/or teamwork.
Most importantly, Catholic schools provide a faith-based education in which students build and deepen their relationship with Christ. The students learn about and witness Roman Catholic beliefs, principles, values, and traditions. Students experience a culture of Christian community which is welcoming, inclusive, caring, and safe. All are encouraged to love and serve God, value their own intrinsic worth, value others, treat all others with dignity and respect, and recognize that they are a part of a world that is larger than themselves. Studies show that students who have attended Catholic schools are more likely to pray, attend church more often, retain their Catholic identity as an adult, be more actively engaged in social justice issues and community service, and be more tolerant of diverse views.
When we take a deeper dive into the core of the value of Catholic education, we find that there is a global dimension with a more profound impact. I remember the deep impression it made on me when I heard Pope Benedict XVI provide a reflection that struck at the very soul of what makes Catholic education so valuable. When speaking about Catholic education His Holiness simply, but powerfully proclaimed,
“(Catholic Education) … It is an outstanding apostolate of hope, seeking to address the material, intellectual and spiritual needs … of children and students … No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation …”
The Pope stated that the merging of the earthly and spiritual welfare of children and young adults forms the foundation of a child’s total development and is, therefore, a unique value found in no other secular educational institution. This uniqueness gives students the academic foundation, spiritual fortitude, and strong moral convictions that they need to shape their futures and become their best selves. The Holy Father expanded on that uniqueness saying that cultivating the faith and moral compass of each student exposed to a Catholic education results in creating a synergy that has a residual and global effect nurturing the soul of the nation.
There can be no other conclusion: investing in a Catholic education for our children is an investment in hope and that is a value that has far reaching consequences and influences society as a whole. Today, more than ever, our nation needs succeeding generations to receive and be transformed by a Catholic education – an “outstanding apostolate of hope.”
Wherever there is a Catholic school you will find a beacon of hope – a true value in every sense of the word.