Bishop's Column

The mission to teach

By Bishop James Conley  

As we get closer and closer to the great Solemnity of Christmas in this graced season of Advent, we reflect upon God the Father sending his only begotten son to our world to save us. God recognized our plight and he has come to our rescue. He saves us through the Paschal mystery—Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection.

And as Jesus sanctifies us, he is also teaching us. He teaches us with his words and also in his sacrifice. He has come to reveal God to man, and man to himself. As true God, he reveals to us who God is, and as true man, he instructs us of our great dignity, our great calling, our great destiny to be with him forever. 

Teaching was at the heart of the mission of Christ. In the Gospels, Jesus is sometimes referred to as “rabbi,” or teacher. He is constantly teaching throughout his public ministry, where Jews and Gentiles alike seek his knowledge and counsel. Even at the age of 12, he astonished the teachers in the temple with his understanding (Lk 2:47).

In his last words to the apostles, Jesus sent them forth into mission saying, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20).

In this command to his apostles, Our Lord has handed over to the Apostles the task to teach. Teaching is part of the three-fold mission of the Apostles: to teach, govern, and sanctify. As a successor of the apostles, it is my responsibility to continue the teaching mission of the Church in the Diocese of Lincoln, safeguarding, transmitting, and celebrating the saving Gospel of our Good Teacher, Jesus Christ.

While this responsibility to teach is principally the role of the bishop in the Diocese of Lincoln, as it is in every diocese, it is really the duty of all Catholics to assist in this holy and noble endeavor.

First and foremost, parents are the primary educators of their children. The family is “the domestic church.” The family is where children learn how to be human; it’s where they learn the faith; it’s where they learn to love. Christ taught through both his words and his sacrifice. And the faith continues to be handed down from generation to generation through both instruction and the example of saintly lives.

The Diocese of Lincoln has a rich tradition of assisting parents in their duty as primary educators of their children through solid, vibrant, and affordable Catholic schools that are faithful to the mission of the Church.

Pope Saint John Paul II said, “Catholic education aims not only to communicate facts but also to transmit a coherent, comprehensive vision of life, in the conviction that the truths contained in that vision liberate students in the most profound meaning of human freedom.”

In order to do this, Catholic schools must promote love of God, love of neighbor, love of learning itself, and a love of truth, goodness, and beauty. In fostering this love in the hearts of our students, they will be formed into disciples of Jesus Christ through the pursuit of holiness, and, as a result, they will possess the necessary skills to become informed and productive members of society.

Much has been invested into our Catholic Schools throughout the history of the Diocese of Lincoln. This investment has not come without sacrifice, even struggle. Some have sacrificed their entire lives through their service in Catholic Schools—perhaps foregoing more lucrative careers in other fields. I am grateful for all the sacrifices of administrators, teachers, and staff of our Catholic schools today and throughout the years, as they serve Christ and his Church through the formation of our young people. 

I am grateful to the parishes in the Diocese of Lincoln, which have given sacrificially in support of their parochial and central schools. I am grateful to the many parents, who have also made sacrifices so that their children would receive a Catholic education, buying into the mission of Catholic schools. I am grateful to our benefactors who support our mission, and help keep our schools affordable.

It is my duty to ensure that our Catholic schools remain solid, vibrant and affordable. In order to ensure quality Catholic schools, we must constantly be evaluating ourselves, trying to become better. Our mission of forming students into disciples of Jesus Christ will never change. However, in order to continue that mission, our schools must be financially sustainable.

During this past week, I’ve had to make the difficult decision of accepting the recommendation of St. Mary Parish in Lincoln to consolidate St. Mary Catholic School at the conclusion of the 2018-19 academic year.

This decision was not made in haste. Consolidation is a decision that can only be made with a heavy heart, and after completing a great deal of research. And a great deal of research was done leading up to this decision.

I am sensitive to the pain that this decision has caused in many people associated with St. Mary. This is understandable and reasonable, as there are many memories attached to the school. Thousands of students have walked the halls of St. Mary, established life-long relationships, and have been part of a beautiful community. 

While this decision was difficult, it was made to ensure that St. Mary students continue to receive an affordable Catholic education, just in a different place. I pray it will bring our school communities closer together, and that it will make all of us stronger and more faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

To the St. Mary School family, I thank all of you for decades of witness to Jesus Christ and his Church. Administrators, teachers, staff, students, families, supporters — you have all made sacrifices to ensure the formation of Christian disciples who will serve Christ for generations to come.

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