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opinion/commentary View Comments

Catholic Schools
By Ed Langlois
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Tuesday, January 25, 2011
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PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS)—Love or hate their politics, new House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, and Democratic Vice President Joe Biden are products of Catholic education. Both men rose from humble circumstances.

Contributing to civic life is seen by some as a hallmark of Catholic schools, but others note another benefit the schools provide to the wider community—what they save states in public education dollars.

In Oregon, for example, the amount is about $80 million annually. The savings come because every student who does not attend a public school equals $5,700 Oregon does not need to send to a school district.

"This is our contribution to Oregon's economy," said Bob Mizia, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Portland. "That, plus the good citizens created," he told the Catholic Sentinel, the archdiocesan newspaper.

About 14,500 students are enrolled in Catholic schools statewide. Some estimate that the total amount that these schools save states nationally is more than $26 billion annually.

Families who send their children to Catholic schools still pay their taxes to support public education, in addition to paying tuition and helping create hundreds of jobs.
Each year the National Catholic Educational Association and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops jointly sponsor Catholic Schools Week to draw attention to their contributions. This year's observance, Jan. 30-Feb. 5, has as its theme "Catholic Schools: A+ for America."

Schools typically celebrate the week with Masses, open houses and activities for students, administrators, faculty, school staff, the community and families.

"Historically, Catholic schools are known for their high level of academic achievement, moral values and high graduation rates," said Karen Ristau, NCEA president.

Marie Powell, executive director of the USCCB Secretariat of Catholic Education for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, pointed out that this year nearly 30 percent of the nation's 2.1 million Catholic school students come from minority populations.

Catholic schools spend less per student and usually get better results, if a SAT scores in Oregon's state capital, Salem, are any example. They show that students at Blanchet Catholic School score 200 points higher on average than their public school counterparts, even though demographics are about the same.

"It could be any number of things—discipline or family support or the ability to focus resources," said Kevin Mannix, a former state legislator and chairman of the board for Blanchet. "Catholic schools reflect a dynamic community that supports education. The graduates are imbued with solid moral values and can provide leadership to the community."

Catholic schools contribute to the wider good by giving public schools an example of steadfastness in educational thought, said Tom Green, a former public school administrator and now dean of graduate studies at the University of Portland, a Catholic institution.

"Catholic schools provide some good lessons about constancy of purpose; they're less swayed by political rhetoric and the latest fads," said Green, who was assistant superintendent in two Portland-area districts.

The Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute in 2008 found that 44 percent of Oregon families would send their children to private school if they could.

"Catholic schools particularly give students a lot of one-on-one attention," said Kathryn Hickok, who directs a fund that helps low-income students in Oregon attend private schools. The Children's Scholarship Fund has aided 600 students in Oregon so far, many of them choosing Catholic education, even though the families are not Catholic.

"We hear from parents that students at Catholic schools feel shepherded through by caring teachers and principals," said Hickok, a member of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Oswego.

"You never know how kids will be touched by Catholic education," Hickok said. "Catholic schools are good at teaching children values and responsibility. That's really a hallmark of private schools, especially Catholic and other faith-based schools -- personal formation, how you live your values."


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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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