When we think about vocations and pray for vocations, the role of the Catholic school needs to be considered, and hopefully praying for vocations will lead to a few more prayers for Catholic schools.
Three of my sisters attended private Catholic boarding school for their high school education. By the time that it became my turn to attend, the school was adopting to better meet their community's needs and had decided that accepting only day students would work best for them, so I attended our local public high school.
National Vocation Awareness Week was just celebrated and I am sure that in the early '60s when we dropped my oldest sister off at school most of the sisters who taught there had also been educated in Catholic schools. Many of the sisters who ran the schools in the Archdiocese of Boston were also educated by sisters. The Sisters of St. Joseph and the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur all served as role models for other women who have found their religious vocation, their way of serving God.
The same is true for men who become priests. Research from Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) indicates that students who attend Catholic schools are more likely to consider a vocation and then to discern that God is calling them to serve the Church in a very specific way. Twenty-three percent of Millennial Generation Catholics have attended a Catholic primary school at some point. Yet, half or more new priests (50 percent) and brothers (55 percent) attended Catholic primary schools as did 41 percent of new sisters and 45 percent of younger lay ecclesial ministers.
CARA research also states that without Catholic schools, both attendance at Mass and the number of vocations would drop dramatically, requiring the Catholic Church in the United States to bring in additional priests from other countries to serve the local church. "Among never-married Millennial Generation male Catholics (ages 14 and older surveyed for CARA's Consideration of Priesthood and Religious Life Among Never-Married U.S. Catholics) who have attended a Catholic school, more than one in four indicate that they have considered becoming a priest or brother. Only about one in 10 of those who did not attend a Catholic educational institution indicate this. Among never-married Post-Vatican II and Millennial Generation female Catholics (ages 14 and older) who have attended a Catholic school, 13 percent or more indicate that they have considered becoming a sister or nun. Only about 6 percent to 7 percent of those who did not attend a Catholic educational institution indicate this." (Mark M. Gray -- CARA)
The research by CARA indicates that attendance at a Catholic high school is the single most important indicator that a man will seriously consider the priesthood, while for women, attendance at a Catholic grade school is a strong indicator of interest in the religious life. The more Catholic education a person has, magnifies the impact of Catholic schools, as more than twice the number of men and women have considered a religious vocation if they attended a Catholic elementary school, a Catholic high school and a Catholic college.
Catholic schools were built on the vocations of many men and especially women, who dedicated their lives to educate the children of others. They gave their lives teaching children about service, about grace, reconciliation and the true beauty of the love God has for us. We can never repay them for all that they have done to build a Church that is a community, in communion with Christ. Our gratitude to the religious women and men who worked tirelessly in our schools does not waver, for we know that without them, we would not have such a robust system of schools where children are developing into saints and scholars.
Catholic schools are the place where hope lives, where a student's trust in God develops and grows. There is little doubt that without Catholic schools we would have fewer sisters, brother and priests to share the news of Jesus. The sisters, brothers and priests built schools where evangelization takes place at a very steady and consistent pace, bringing in children and their families into a relationship with Jesus. They built a system that renews our faith and our Church. The connection they created between Catholic schools, church attendance and vocations is very strong. When we think about vocations and pray for vocations, the role of the Catholic school needs to be considered, and hopefully praying for vocations will lead to a few more prayers for Catholic schools.
Catholic schools are great places to learn many things. They are a place where students learn about Jesus and his saving grace. They are a place where students to learn to serve others and the Church. They are an incubator for our future priests, brothers and sisters. They are vital to a healthy Church.
Kathy Mears is Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Boston.