In this month of Thanksgiving, I reflect on the many blessings we have for our Catholic Schools.  The Department of Catholic Schools leadership team recently had the opportunity to attend the NCEA Catholic Leadership Summit in Newport, Rhode Island, and the Amazing Parish conference in Anaheim. As diocesan leaders, both conferences offered wonderful opportunities to grow personally, professionally, and spiritually.

The Catholic Leadership Summit provided us with professional development framework for diocesan, system, and network leadership. It was a privilege to represent the Diocese of Orange and share the good work we have embarked upon in our Catholic schools.  Catholic schools across the country share similar challenges such as declining enrollment, shifting models of governance, and gaps in school funding. I was proud to shift the narrative and share some accomplishments in our OC Catholic schools as guided by our Strategic Plan and supported by our Bishops.  Since July 2018, we have reorganized and expanded the Department of Catholic Schools to better support and serve our 34 elementary schools and 7 high schools.  We have focused on leadership formation for our principals and aspiring principals to ensure that school leaders are nurtured and supported at every stage of their journey.  Catholic Identity and Faith Formation are always our priority.  As such, we have experienced successful collaborations with our Office of Evangelization and Faith Formation in the form of principal and teacher retreats.  While we saw a slight decline in enrollment (1.13%) this year, we celebrate that we are slowing down the enrollment decline and engaging schools with intentionality in retention, enrollment, and marketing. We also celebrate that 18 schools realized an increase in enrollment and we continue to educate over 17,500 students in faith, academic excellence, and service.

During the final days of October, we joined our pastors and our bishops at the Amazing Parish conference. Our team received first-hand organizational health training from New York Times best-selling author, Patrick Lencioni, and other leaders. The conference was a workshop-style format so our team worked together side-by-side with insights provided from the conference.  It was inspiring to come together to honor and celebrate our Catholic heritage and spirituality with other Catholic leaders across the nation. The conference reminded us of our commitment to living out the evangelizing mission of our Church through our Catholic schools and creating future leaders for our Church and our world.

In Bishop Vann’s recent pastoral letter, he reminded us that, “…prayer is essential to our relationship with God and the necessary foundation of all our endeavors.”  We are blessed to be able to engage in prayer with our schools. In an effort to pray specifically for schools during our Year of Prayer, the Department of Catholic Schools team decided that we will choose one school each week for focused prayer. During the week, we pray individually and as a group for the intentions of the school.  Our team is also committed to visiting the school or attending mass at the school during the week of prayer. So far, we have prayed for St. Norbert School (Orange), St. Joseph School (Placentia), School of Our Lady (Santa Ana), La Purisima School (Orange), St. Catherine of Siena School (Laguna Beach), St. Pius V School (Buena Park), St. Hedwig School (Los Alamitos), and St. Bonaventure School (Huntington Beach).  Please join us in praying for our OC Catholic schools!

While many of our team efforts focus on our elementary schools, we do not want to overlook the good work at our excellent Catholic high schools.  I am grateful for the level of collaboration among our high schools and the focus on Catholic identity, academic excellence, and community service. Our high schools welcome the opportunity to share resources and learn from one another so that we can continue to grow stronger for our entire Catholic community.

During this season of Thanksgiving and Advent, I am extremely grateful for blessings of our Catholic schools and the opportunity to serve our Church in this important mission. When we express gratitude towards God, our intentions move beyond our own wellbeing toward the wellbeing of others.  Gratitude is an essential Christian tool for orienting ourselves toward the kingdom of God with hope, longing, and joy. David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, expressed this relationship perfectly by reminding us that, “The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”

This Advent, we have the opportunity to prepare for the joy of Christmas through gratitude for the gift of God’s son. May we be people of gratitude for all those involved in the ministry of Catholic education, and may we all strive to recognize God’s presence in our lives and the graces that illuminate our work and our world.