A glance through the Catholic school directory recently brought a startling revelation: Catholic schools have been in the Diocese of Buffalo since before there was a Diocese of Buffalo. Two schools, St. Aloysius Regional School in Springville, and SS. Peter & Paul School in Williamsville, have been in operation since 1836, and that's 11 years before the Diocese of Buffalo was established.
I researched the significance of that year of 1836. The battle of the Alamo took place and the Republic of Texas was founded. Charles Darwin embarked on his voyages of the Beagle, and Andrew Jackson was president of the U.S.
The opening, once again, of the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Buffalo in 2015 is a testament to the staying power of Catholic education. Here we are, 179 years later, and excited to begin another school year.
While a lot has changed since those days of yore, the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Buffalo remain beacons of hope to almost 15,000 students. They are worthy ministries to over 1,400 teachers, and they are an inspiration for 52 school administrators.
What has also not changed is the Catholic identity of our schools. Though we enroll many students who are not Catholic, we do insist that they take the religion courses, give respectful attendance at Mass and religious celebrations, and invest in the Catholic practices of the school.
What has changed is the look of our schools. While computers and SMART Boards are ubiquitous, and the STREAM project now includes almost half of our elementary schools, our new school communities now include children of color, children from such disparate places as Myanmar and Bhutan, and children from various parishes and from many school districts.
What has changed is the look of our teachers. A mere 50 years ago, 96 percent of Catholic school teachers were vowed religious women. The opening of school in 2015 will see that 3 percent of staffs are religious. When the sisters moved on, a cadre of dedicated laymen and women were ready, willing and able to take their place.
Though they earn far, far less than their public school peers, they are, nonetheless, just as professionally trained, certified, and competent. They see their job as a ministry, a calling from God, and that makes them even more admirable.
What has changed is the professionalism of our school administrators, who know that they are the spiritual leaders, the instructional leaders, the managerial leaders, and the chief representatives of their schools. The Diocese of Buffalo Department of Catholic Schools has worked very closely with these leaders to partner in their own professional, managerial and spiritual development, so that our principals are top-notch.
Our school principals continue to help to develop boards that will help them to direct their schools into a hopeful, fruitful future. They continue to utilize the Buffalo Diocesan Federation of Home-School Associations to harness the power and influence of Catholic school parents, and to involve them more deeply in the education of their children.
In his book "From Good To Great," author Jim Collins posits this: "The enemy of good is not bad; the enemy of good is good enough; in other words, mediocrity." In Catholic schools, mediocrity is just not acceptable. If parents are going to entrust their children to us, we had better make that worthwhile.
As we begin the 180th year of the existence of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Buffalo, we celebrate their continued excellence, which has been publicly recognized over the years in Business First, in the national and local recognition of STREAM, and by the thousands of parents and students who have chosen and benefited from Catholic education.
The school year 2015-2016 offers more challenges than ever, but, if the past 179 years have taught us anything, it's that we must continue to hold onto what is essential, and to be open to what we need to do.