A Letter from NCEA President/CEO Dr. Thomas W. Burnford to Catholic School Educators

August 23, 2018

Dear Catholic School Educators,

In August and September, almost two million young people are returning to our Catholic schools across the country. This is a source of great joy for all involved, and yet the institutional Catholic Church, of which Catholic schools are an integral part, is reeling from a crisis. I am horrified. I am angry. I find it difficult to focus on the work at hand; but that work, the work of Catholic education, is pressing and here upon us. In light of the situation (the Pennsylvania grand jury report, abuse, cover-ups, and McCarrick), please find below some reflections/talking points that we hope are useful to you as together we begin a new school year. These few points are not answers or solutions and do not address any specifics of the current abuse/disclosure situation. While in deep sorrow and pain and in solidarity with those abused and while we work for change, students are coming and we have to begin this academic year with renewed focus and passion for the good work we do of witnessing faith, sharing knowledge and living with integrity.

  1. Anger is a normal response to this news. It is reasonable to be horrified, angry, disappointed and upset at the news coming out of the Pennsylvania grand jury’s report. Talking to each other helps; avoiding what we feel does not. Have open and honest discussions with others. If you need to talk, call me, 571-257-0028, or any of the staff at NCEA. Support one another as faculties/staff, and spend time together in discussion and prayer.
  2. Remember the basics. The Gospel message is not complex: It’s about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Savior, and our relationship with him individually and together. Let’s ground ourselves in the basics of what it means to be Catholic as explained, for example, in Ephesians 2:1-2, in the first three paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and in the first two sentences of “The Joy of the Gospel” by Pope Francis: “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.” Only from this foundation can we move forward and serve the students before us. Let us pray deeply to the Lord we know and encounter him in the sacraments.
  3. What we CAN do. While we may feel powerless to do anything about this broad and terrible situation, there is something we can do: we can live with integrity today, right now; we can put our students first and embrace our calling as Catholic school educators. Remember the statement that is at the entrance of so many of our schools: “Let it be known to all who enter here that Jesus Christ is the reason for this school, the unseen but ever present Teacher in its classes, the Model of its faculty and staff, the Strength of its parents, the Inspiration of its students.” Talk as a faculty about why you love teaching and how great your school is and then tell others.
  4. Keep students safe. Review your diocesan/local child protection policy and implement all programs; ensure full participation by adults and implement safe environment training for students; focus on child safety in all aspects of the life of the school. Many strides have been made in the past decades to practically keep students safe, but everyone must continually work hard to ensure that our children are protected.
  5. Teach the truth. Ensure that we as Catholic educators teach the fullness of the Catholic faith, especially with regards to sin, forgiveness, justice, grace, morals and virtue. Now more than ever, effective faith formation and a clear proclamation of truth are needed, and those of us who teach the truth must live that truth with integrity. Let us live with words and actions based on the truth of the Gospel.
  6. Tell stories of good works. Amidst the stories of sin and evil, we need to tell stories of good and grace, and there are many stories to tell: stories of students transformed (for example, see the Youth Virtues, Vision and Valor awardees’ essays in the summer issue of Momentum), of academic and civic achievements, of neighbors helped and the poor served. Take time to think about how you tell the story of your school’s contribution to the local community and how the work of the school so well reflects what we believe as Catholics.
  7. Build trust. Trust is built gradually over time through right relationships. While trust can be shattered in an instant through awful acts, God’s work in our lives is a process, and our work with students unfolds over the daily interactions through which they come to trust their teachers and administrators.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
…Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
--Rev. Teilhard de Chardin, SJ

We hope these few reflections help, and thank you to Dr. Tom Kiely of Marquette for #7. Please share with us your work, your witness and any great resources you have @NCEATALK and Facebook.

As those working with a common mission to integrate knowledge with faith in the lives of young people, let us support each other and boldly live with integrity today and each day. On behalf of the almost two million students in the Catholic schools across the country, thank you for your faith, your work and your witness, and let us all entrust our work to Jesus Christ, the Teacher and Healer.

Thomas. W. Burnford