Last week I joined my brother bishops from Region VII of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in attending a conference sponsored by the University of Notre Dame and the Alliance for Catholic Education. The meeting was held in Chicago and hosted by Cardinal Francis George, the Archbishop of Chicago.

Once again, clear statements and strong encouragement were offered for all those involved in the current efforts to maintain our Catholic schools and their abilities to remain on the cutting edge of spiritual and academic achievement. This is not easy, as you may well agree. Chief among issues discussed was the spiraling costs of educational institutions; and while it is considered a major concern, I believe that the underlying power of the meeting truly centered on the philosophy of Catholic education as part and parcel of the Church’s mission in the United States. This is for me a significant and vital question.

In the Diocese of La Crosse, we are poised to commit ourselves to a restructuring and redefining of our ministerial efforts in our educational institutions from our elementary schools right on through to the operations of our college and university Newman chaplaincies. This work will take years to accomplish and ultimately will create a shining example of collegial and collaborative success. Through the work already offered by so many committed members of the educational and business communities along with laity and clergy alike, the road is being mapped out and strategies are being considered that could yield vital and healthy Catholic educational institutions for the coming generations. In and of itself this planning is vital. We are at a serious point in determining the future.

The relevance of Catholic schools in the minds and hearts of many Catholics across our country still remains, I believe, a sensitive issue. If there was any one particular element that surfaced last week, I think I heard an underscoring of Pope Benedict’s treasured New Evangelization initiative for the Church. There is no doubt in my mind that the relevance of education in the faith and the personal knowledge of Jesus Christ are essential in our world today. It is evident further, that secular education in secular institutions is not the means of delivering the message of Christian virtue-centered living. Without strong, solid, integral, and faith-filled Catholic institutions, there will be no foil to the vapid secularism that rages among us.

Our diocese welcomes, Dr. Susan Holman, as the new Superintendent of Catholic Schools. No stranger to the schools’ office, Dr. Holman has served as the interim superintendent since the departure last year of Diana Roberts. We all look forward to the work of the schools’ office, the College of Deans, the Diocesan Pastoral Council, and other friends of Catholic education to assist in directing our diocese to a clear and renewed vision for the future.

And I’ll see you at Sunday Mass.

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