By: Adam J. Dufault, Episcopal Moderator for Education and Superintendent of Schools
Recently, a friend connected me to a small book with a big, powerful message. Msgr. James P. Shea, the president of the University of Mary in North Dakota, published an essay titled, From Christendom to Apostolic Mission. In it, Msgr. Shea argues that our Church has encountered a new era of history, as we have seen the end of the time when one could assume that a Christian world view is the shared norm, a time that he calls the era of Christendom. In response to our new era, the Church must go back to its foundation and reconnect with its apostolic roots. The very first apostles, he wrote, began sharing the Good News with nothing but the grace of the Holy Spirit – just eleven people gathered and charged to “make disciples of all nations” in a hostile land. Their success, and our model to follow, is missionary discipleship.
It is in this same spirit that our Diocese has embraced Bishop Brennan’s call “to increase the presence of Christ throughout the Diocese and uphold the Faith for future generations of Ohioans” through the Real Presence, Real Future initiative. By going back to our foundations and re-kindling the truth of our faith in all Catholics, we will bring forward a renewal of our Church here in the Diocese of Columbus.
I have the honor of serving as the superintendent of Catholic schools here in our Diocese. Our 53 schools, which serve more than 16,000 students from preschool through 12th grade, play a special part in bringing forward this new vision. Our schools are called to increase the presence of Christ within our students, bringing to life Msgr. Shea’s idea that “the importance is not found in numbers but in the intensity of the flame, as the Apostles understood.”
To do this, our schools have been engaged in a strategic planning process over the past year. Our goal is to establish a comprehensive plan for the schools of the Diocese and the Office of Catholic Schools over the next 3 to 5 years that will ensure that the schools are unapologetically Catholic, academically excellent, and financially viable well into the future. This plan will address four key elements.
First, we want to affirm the importance of Catholic education in our Diocese, recognizing that our Diocese not a one-size-fits-all environment. We want to ensure that we have structures in place that encourage collaboration and coordination among the schools while recognizing the distinct needs of the communities they serve.
Second, we are working to create a plan that nurtures and celebrates the Catholic identity of our schools. Our schools must be enthusiastically and unapologetically Catholic – no question about that. Several efforts are already underway in this area, a thorough revision of the religion curriculum for schools, and a new approach to teacher certification.
The third goal is to examine the supportive structures that are in place for the schools. We need to look at new governance models with the goal of creating a small array of models that can be matched to the local needs of each school, connecting with and supporting the parish structures that are being addressed by other plans. We have a critical need to re-envision the financial model that we have used in the Diocese, and we also must look at new curricular models that better meet local needs. At the same time, the Office of Catholic Schools must adapt to facilitate this work, as our primary purpose must be to provide service and support to the schools. We are already starting to restructure to do this, putting an emphasis on direct service for government affairs, finance, marketing, enrollment, development, religious instruction, curriculum, assessment, and personnel.
Finally, the planning process will help us lay a foundation for the future. If we can set these goals properly and create the right action steps and timelines, we can create a structure that will keep our schools viable and growing for the future. It is possible, but it requires this hard work of planning.
In Pope Francis’ 2019 encyclical, Christus Vivit, the Holy Father tells us that young people are “the ‘Now’ of God.” They are not just the future of our Church and our world, they are the present. Our Catholic schools are the best way to surround our students with the love of Jesus Christ and to inspire a deep relationship with Him and His Church, forming the missionary disciples who will transform the world just like those first Apostles.