Archbishop Wuerl Addresses Challenges Facing Catholic Education in New Pastoral Letter

Document outlines a plan to strengthen Catholic schools and religious education

September 18, 2008

In a major new document on Catholic education, Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl outlines a comprehensive effort now underway to assess, strengthen and sustain Catholic schools and other parish religious education programs in the Archdiocese of Washington. The 24-page document, a pastoral letter entitled Catholic Education: Looking to the Future with Confidence, also calls upon all Catholics to support Catholic education and for stronger government support for parents’ educational choices.

“As we begin this new school and pastoral year, we will undertake a review and assessment of our educational efforts, focusing on our parish education programs and Catholic schools. Our goal is to provide our young people with an excellent education and understanding of the faith so that they are well equipped to live out their lives as witnesses to Christ and the Gospel,” Archbishop Wuerl said in describing the purpose of his new letter.

Approximately 30,000 students attend 98 Catholic schools in Washington, DC and suburban and southern Maryland. Another 24,200 youth and 10,300 adults participate in parish religious education programs in more than 140 locations.

In his pastoral letter, Archbishop Wuerl notes a number of the challenges facing the archdiocese in providing a quality, faith-based education in today’s world. These include the pressures of a materialistic and secular society, financial realities and demographic shifts. At the same time, he sees a bright future: “Looking to the future of Catholic education, we should do so with hope, confidence and enthusiasm, knowing that we bring something to those we teach that no one else can.”

The comprehensive planning process laid out in the pastoral letter has its roots in two archdiocesan-wide convocations on Catholic schools and religious education held over the past two years. The planning is moving forward on two tracks:

• For religious education, a review and assessment of programs, guidelines and curricula, and the development of religious education standards so it is clear what a student should be learning at each level;
• For Catholic schools, the development of policies to strengthen schools in four critical areas: Catholic identity, academic excellence, affordability and geographic accessibility.

Four task forces have been established to research and develop the initial policy recommendations for the Catholic schools. The process, expected to last into mid-2009, will include parish-based consultation.

With finances a major concern for families, Archbishop Wuerl notes that the archdiocese already has been actively seeking new ways to help parents. One example is a major expansion of tuition aid this fall, from $800,000 available last year to nearly $2 million this year through outreach to new donors and a new pilot tuition assistance program.

While this is a significant amount of money, Archbishop Wuerl notes that the archdiocese on its own cannot fill all of the financial need. Government partnerships with families, such as the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, a federal pilot program for low-income families in the District of Columbia, and the proposed BOAST legislation (Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers) in Maryland, that would give businesses tax credits for supporting scholarships and professional development, will be critical in bringing educational equality to families in Washington, DC and Maryland.

Read Catholic Education: Looking to the Future here.

Susan Gibbs
Director of Communications
[email protected]