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Catholic education open to all

August 6, 2018

In the Nicene Creed that Catholics say at Mass, we say, “I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” Catholic in this instance is not capitalized because it is a description: a description of the Church. The word means universal: The Church is universal and open to all. This is the same as with Catholic education, it is open to all people, not just Catholics.

I believe that Catholic education is the best education in the U.S. This is not to say other schools don’t do a good job and amazing things; I believe that the Catholic educational system just does it better. Why and how? We put God at the center of all that we do and all that we teach. When you put God at the center of everything, education by that very fact is just better. We do this by living our faith and being the model of that faith to the best of our ability. We are not perfect, but we try to do a little better every day.

Santo Niño Regional Catholic School is a prekindergarten to sixth-grade school on the south side of Santa Fe (“Spreading the word,” July 15). It is the only Catholic elementary school in the area and serves the eight Catholic parishes in Santa Fe, Las Vegas and Pecos. The school is about 12 years old with beautiful facilities and amazing people. I was recently appointed the principal of Santo Niño, and I could not be more thrilled. I have not always been a Catholic educator, but when I found it, I found something truly special. There are three critical elements that I believe makes Catholic education highly effective:

First, a successful Catholic school is unabashedly and outwardly Catholic. As a person walks into a Catholic school, they should feel like they have entered a new environment that is universally welcoming with Jesus Christ at its center. This is not just religious statues and crucifixes, but in the people themselves, the daily prayers and frequent liturgical celebrations. This environment permeates the entire school from the basketball court to the art room to the math classroom.

Second, a successful Catholic school is academically rigorous. The academically rigorous program involves active participation of the student and reflection upon the subject in the light of faith. Theology, science, math, English, literature, languages, art, music and athletics should push the student to do the best that they can do and instill in the student a desire for lifelong learning.

Third, a successful Catholic school is centered on the person of Jesus Christ, and the faculty, administration, coaches and parents must be that model to the student. As Blessed Paul VI said, “The more completely an educator can give concrete witness to the model of the ideal person, Christ, that is being presented to the students, the more this ideal will be believed and imitated.”

It is incumbent that all people with interest in educating students academically within a Catholic school are also educators in faith. Decisions within the school, from discipline to fiscal issues, should be viewed with an eye to the Catholic faith.

Catholic schools have the weight of over 2,000 years of Catholic Christian tradition behind them. Catholic educators do not indoctrinate; we teach students how to think critically about the world that surrounds them, which is increasingly hostile. The Catholic school is an oasis in this hostile world, an oasis of faith, truth, morality, community and joy. Santo Niño Regional Catholic School is that oasis of joy in the desert.

Dirk B. Steffens is principal of Santo Niño Regional Catholic School.

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