BALTIMORE--Catholic schools provide "lasting faith formation, vocations to the religious life and priesthood, high educational attainments, and communities of the New Evangelization," and should reach out to Latino communities and other underserved populations as part of the Church's mission to preach the Gospel, said two U.S. bishops in a presentation to the Fall General Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), November 10. Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, Nebraska, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Catholic Education, and Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, gave the presentation.
"The New Evangelization calls us to open up an inviting space where God's grace can take hold and bear fruit, to welcome the Spirit in ways that support conversion, touch the heart, and inspire," said Archbishop Lucas. He added that Catholic schools operate as communities rather than bureaucracies and that the results are higher levels of student engagement and achievement. He noted that 99 percent of students who attend Catholic high school graduate, that 87 percent of Catholic high school graduates go on to attend a four-year college and that, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Latino and African American students attending a Catholic school are more likely to graduate from high school and college.
"Welcoming more children from diverse populations in our Catholic Schools, and particularly making an effort to reach out to underserved communities, is important for the future of Catholic schools and of our Church," said Bishop Flores. He said reaching out to families in diverse communities is in keeping with the call of Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium.
Bishop Flores noted there is no parish school system in Latin America and that Catholic schools "are usually private, and often unaffordable" to most families. "Parents do not know how to access the system, think they cost a lot of money and, without much further consideration, discard even the thought of inquiring," he said. He encouraged bilingual staff and other cultural training to bridge the gap and build relationships with Latino communities.
Bishop Flores cited a 2014 Boston College study, which found that the larger the number of Latino parishioners, the less likely that community had a responsibility for a school. It also found that Catholic schools are less available in areas where the Catholic population has grown the most, mostly thanks to Latinos, in the South and the West. Major initiatives by bishops, superintendents, pastors and principals to provide consistent cultural competency training and financial investments have produced positive results. The percentage of Latino children enrolled in Catholic schools in the United States has grown from 12.8 percent to 15 percent over the last four years. "The needle is moving in the right direction, even if slowly," Bishop Flores said.