70 yrs of Catholic Education

02-01-2015Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

From the start the Catholic community in Tempe has provided for the education of its parish children. As far back as the 1880's a Catholic school was part of the Mt. Carmel community. Our present school has been in operation continuously since 1945. Which means this year we celebrate 70 years of Catholic Education at Mt. Carmel! That is a history we can be proud of and a reason for hope for the future.

Today the educational landscape has become quite diverse: Public schools, charter schools, private schools, parochial schools and home schooling. Diversity in education certainly is a benefit to our society. Still there are many voices that push very strongly for a single educational system run by the state. That however might provide uniformity but it would also most certainly create a sort of educational inbreeding that would not benefit society. The fact that so many parents and communities fight hard to keep Catholic Schools open or to form Charter Schools gives parents greater choice in providing for the educational needs of their children.

I say parents, because it is parents who are responsible for the education of their children not the state, not the local school board, not the Federal bureaucracy. The Church has always been especially clear that the religious education of children is the primary responsibility of parents. Catholic schools and religious education programs are there to assist not take the place of parents in forming their children in the ways of faith. And of course the old adage applies: you cannot give what you do not have. So parents need to make sure they are living the Gospel way of life if they hope their children will.

The rest of us, the larger community have a moral obligation to help parents to accomplish their responsibility. This is woven into the fabric of US society, just look at your tax bill! Whether you have children or your children are raised you provide for the overall education of children in our society. The same applies to the Catholic community: we are all responsible for the support of our parish Catholic school.

Because of a long history of anti-Catholicism, religious schools are not funded through the government treasury. That has been an historical blessing and a curse. But here in Arizona through the efforts of many people and two successful legal challenges at the US Supreme Court we have an expansive Tax Credit system through which you can redirect some of your tax dollars to Catholic schools, charter schools and specific funding areas for Public schools.

Thankfully many of you participate in one of the varieties of AZ Educational Tax Credits. But what always perplexes me is those who can but don't. I realize that people in general get very confused when it comes to how taxes work which is probably why politicians can take so much of our money but if you would like to learn more about how you can participate at no cost to you just ask. Again this year we are partnering with H&R Block and if you use them to prepare your taxes they will show you how the Tax Credits work. If not just stop by our school office, parish office or e-mail me for more information. It is important to remember that the Educational Tax Credits do not decrease the budget for local school districts and that the State of Arizona supports the programs because they have helped expand the educational opportunities in our State.

One of the great blessings Catholic schools have provided to our country has been the education of so many children of immigrants. Beginning in the late 19th century with the waves of European immigrants flooding our shores, Catholic schools have been able to move immigrants from poverty into economic stability and raise them to every social level in our society in a relatively short period of time. Additionally Catholic schools have helped those immigrants stay connected to their faith and in the Church.

Our schools in the inner cities have also done a great job of helping poor blacks move into the middle class and Catholic schools on Native American lands have done likewise. Yet today we are failing to attract the newest immigrant group to our schools. As a result Hispanics are falling behind economically and leaving the Church in large numbers. Whether it is because they do not know about Catholic education (since many Latin American countries don't have Catholic schools) or because they think our schools are out of their reach the result is that today many Hispanics are getting stuck in poverty and not being integrated into our society.

My challenge to all of you who so faithfully help us keep our Parish school open is to reach out to the newest arrivals to our shores and invite them to send their children to Catholic school. This means reminding them of their responsibility for educating their children in the ways of faith and letting them know that the Church in the US is ready to help them to do just that.

Some of the oldest photos we have at our Mt. Carmel School show a classroom full of Mexican and Native American children. Today our classrooms are much more diverse but there is still room for the new Catholic immigrant in our school. This is one of the legacies that the history of our school has bequeathed to us. We need to remain faithful to it.

Fr. John B.