It was the early 1800s when missionaries, captivated by zeal for the Gospel, started to build our Church in St. Louis. The civic and religious foundations of our region and Archdiocese are woven together in a garment of dedication and commitment. Just 23 years after the city of St. Louis was sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase, the Archdiocese of St. Louis was founded, inaugurated by missionaries under the leadership of Bishops DuBourg and Rosati.
Our Church grew. In the decades that followed, waves of immigrants contributed to the building of churches, parish communities, and ultimately, our schools. This critical component of our work – Catholic education – ensures that our children hear the message of hope contained in the Gospel every day, and bring with them into adulthood, into their families, into the workforce, and into the world – the academic excellence, personal confidence, and faith formation that our schools provide.
The success of Catholic education in our Archdiocese has served as a model for the Church across the United States. The network that exists today is the largest in the state of Missouri; its foundation forged by the devotion and diligence set forth by the priests, religious sisters and brothers, and families of the early 20th century. It is truly an expression of the faith of those who have gone before us and the commitment of our predecessors to the ideals that they endeavored to realize through Catholic education.
If the underpinnings of our educational network are built upon the dedication of our ancestors, its success today is the product of the hard work and evangelization of our current Archdiocesan community. Annually, we educate approximately 58,000 students in our 140 schools and throughout numerous religious education programs. All teachers are state certified. New teachers receive spiritual formation and professional development through a mentor program, during which they partner with one of our veteran educators. Seventeen of our schools are recognized nationally as Blue Ribbon Schools. Quite simply, we have the best and the brightest in our schools – both teaching and learning. Tens of thousands of Missouri children have had their minds and their lives enhanced through their personal journey of transformation. Children of all temperaments, children from wealthy and modest means, children with varied gifts and talents from God cross the threshold and are welcomed by teachers dedicated to their formation – emotionally, spiritually, academically, physically, socially, and artistically.
Despite these successes, our Catholic schools continue to struggle with sustaining enrollment as rising tuition costs are increasingly too expensive for many families to bear. Remaining competitive to attract skilled teachers and staff, and to ensure that we are able to provide the latest technological and educational advancements for our students, is costly. Ensuring that families with financial need are given access to our schools is part and parcel of our moral obligation, as Christians, to take care of one another.
Since 2012, Archbishop Robert Carlson has been working in consultation with thousands of faithful stakeholders throughout our Archdiocese to create and launch the Alive in Christ! Mission Advancement Initiative with the objective of raising awareness about the importance of Catholic schools as instruments of evangelization, catechesis, social justice, and stewardship. We have already begun many program enhancements outlined in the initiative. Examples to date include: workshops for teachers on apologetics, the creation of a lay formation program that has begun training for its first three year cohort, the 2013 establishment of the Roman Catholic Foundation of Eastern Missouri, and the disbursement of scholarships to 1,000 new students and over 800 existing students. We have accomplished much, but our work is not nearly done. In the coming year, with the assistance of the Catholic Leadership Institute, we will amplify the four pillars of Alive in Christ! and refresh its impact on our Archdiocese.