This will be the first in a series of articles addressing some of the common questions about our 137-year-old school. Additional articles about academic rigor, activities, long-term planning, and other topics will be arriving shortly.
The mission of St. Mary’s High School: "St. Mary's High School exists to educate students in the Catholic tradition to be responsible, moral, critical thinkers and leaders well prepared for college and life."
We are sending this message to our community on Holy Thursday, the beginning of the Easter Triduum. The Easter Triduum marking the end of Lent, is the summit of the liturgical year. It points us to the central event in the Christian story: the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As such, this moment presents a unique opportunity to speak to the beautiful Catholic identity of St. Mary’s High School.
Over the last several months we've received some inputs from the broader community on our Catholic identity. In that feedback were some sentiments that generally fell into two categories: "St. Mary's is too Catholic" and "St. Mary's is not Catholic enough."
This communication started with the mission statement in part so our community has a place to plant their feet with regard to our Catholic identity. Our mission statement doesn't call for us to be more or less Catholic, it calls us to be Catholic.
There are roughly 1.4 billion Catholics in the world, and if it were left to each of them to define what it means to be Catholic, we might end up with 1.4 billion definitions. Fortunately we don't have to navigate more than a billion definitions of what it means to be Catholic because what the Catholic Church believes with regard to what it means to be Catholic is fundamentally articulated in two places: the first is the Holy Bible and the second is the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC).
You can access the translation of the Bible used for the Mass in the United States (the Revised New American Bible) through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website here: https://bible.usccb.org/bible
And you can access the text of the official CCC from the Vatican website here: https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM
What is noticeably absent from these two documents is any guidance that suggests Catholicism belongs exclusively to a particular philosophy, ideology or political system. The mission of St. Mary’s calls for educating students to be critical thinkers in the Catholic tradition, and that means developing their minds and forming their consciences so they can think as adults and make responsible and moral decisions.
As stated above, what it means to be Catholic is defined by the Bible and the CCC; but for an institution to call itself “Catholic” requires the permission of the local bishop in whatever diocese the institution is located. Bishop Hanifen first gave the school permission to call itself Catholic when St. Mary’s became an independent high school. Bishop Sheridan re-affirmed our Catholic identity in 2014 (his letter doing so is posted in the entrance of the school), and he also approved the new theology curriculum prior to its launch in August 2021.
Continually reinforcing our Catholic identity is becoming increasingly important in the modern culture that our students must navigate. We are forming young people for eventual membership in the supernatural world of Heaven. While that formation is taking place, we recognize our students live in a natural, often not Heavenly, world. This is not just a mission for our theology teachers, but is a responsibility of everyone in our community; parents, all faculty, all staff, coaches, alumni, etc.
Our students live in a world that is increasingly redefining truth to mean whatever the person holding the microphone wants “truth” to be. In our modern culture, we often hear expressions like “your truth” and “my truth,” but rarely do we hear discussions of the truth. As we gaze upon a world that is increasingly relativistic, utilitarian and secular, it should be obvious to us all that Catholic schools are more important than ever before. In our Catholic schools, our teachers have the freedom to teach, and our students have the freedom to learn about the beauty and goodness that flow from God’s authentic truth.