Bishop's Column

The witness of a holy teacher

By Bishop James Conley  

At the last supper, Jesus put things simply to his apostles: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn. 14: 15).

In many ways, the Christian life is that simple. If we love the Lord, we should follow his commandments. As we follow his commandments, we will grow in love. Our love, expressed in holy obedience, will then beget more love, and, as we follow the Lord, we will grow more deeply in love with him, and more capable of loving our neighbors.

We are made by love and for love, and love is the measure of all things, because God is love.

The mission of Catholic education, therefore, is fostering in our children love for the Lord, and teaching them to follow the will of the Lord out of love, not in a kind of mindless or facile obedience to rules which will easily be overcome by temptation, but in the habits of virtue, and in the wonder, joy and delight that comes through knowing and loving Christ and His Church.

Catholic schools must foster love of God, love of neighbor, love of learning itself, and a love of truth, goodness, and beauty.

That is why I am so proud of the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Lincoln. Our students love the Lord and are not afraid to share their love of the Lord with others.

A key reason for the strength of our schools is their leadership. To form disciples of Jesus Christ, a Catholic school leader must be faithful, present, and pastoral. Those attributes are essential for everyone called to the ministry of Catholic education.

A Catholic school leader must trust that Christ has given us the Church, and its teaching, and its leaders, for our salvation.

A Catholic school leader must trust that the teachings of the Church are the sure path to flourishing in this life, and to salvation in the next.

As a faithful witness, and faithful educator, a Catholic school leader must be present to students, teachers, and colleagues. Such a leader must prioritize people over agendas or programs, making time for a conversation, a favor, or an unexpected gift. A Catholic school leader must invest in the people he or she is with, not becoming preoccupied with screens, or devices, or worldly affairs.

A Catholic school leader must be preoccupied with salvation. Such a leader must show each one of us that God loves us, and that who we are matters to the Lord.

A Catholic school leader must be pastoral. Much is made these days of the word “accompaniment.” A Catholic school leader must live it. If a friend, or teacher, or student, is carrying a cross, a virtuous leader helps shoulder the load. If he knows someone is walking a difficult path, a Catholic school leader walks alongside them. A leader points, never to himself, but to Christ. He is a companion along the way, and in that sense, a true friend.

The superintendent of the Diocese of Lincoln’s Catholic schools, Msgr. John Perkinton, is such a leader. He is faithful, present, and pastoral. And his leadership is a critical part of the success of Catholic education in the Diocese of Lincoln.

Msgr. Perkinton has served the Diocese of Lincoln as school superintendent for 28 years. This summer, he will step down from that position and begin a new period in his life and ministry. There is simply no way to adequately thank him for his ministry as superintendent.

Msgr. Perkinton has given, and will continue to give, his heart, mind, and strength to obeying the Lord’s commandments, and to teaching those commandments, speaking the truth with love.

For generations of teachers and students, he has been a witness of Christian charity, dedicated wholly to the important work of Catholic education. He has invested himself—poured himself out—to form holy administrators, holy teachers, and holy students. Just as Christ calls him, he obeys and teaches the Lord’s commandments.

Teachers are called to show students what it is to follow the Lord’s commandments, and thus to grow in love—and in holiness. They are called to Christian witness, and they do that well beyond the classroom. They do that in their lives: in the choices they make, and the ways they carry themselves. Models of true Christian obedience and discipleship are important for us all.

On behalf of the entire Diocese of Lincoln, I thank Msgr. Perkinton for being such a stellar witness.

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