By Father Mark Clarke, CMF
For Today’s Catholic
As I celebrate 15 years of priesthood this month, I have been especially blessed because most of my years as a priest have been spent working full time with young people. I have served as a chaplain at high schools throughout the United States and worked in campus ministry at several universities, and spent three years directing campus and young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Recently, I completed my canon law studies, with the focus of my research on Catholic education and schools.
Catholic schools have long been seen as institutions that participate in the church’s evangelizing mission of sharing the Gospel, as well as instruments for the evangelization of the young. In the United States, Catholic schools have generously served the needs of the socially and economically disadvantaged, and the parochial school system has integrated millions of young Catholics into ecclesial and social life.
A Catholic school uniquely brings together the academic, spiritual, and extracurricular, successfully integrating learning, faith, and service. From the first moment a student sets foot in a Catholic school, he or she should get the impression of entering a formative environment, one illuminated by the light of faith.
The sacramental life of the church should not be something that is seen as arbitrary to the school day — the sacramental life of the church should be incorporated into the everyday life and mission of the school. God is present in our schools in a very genuine way, and this reality is lived out in our mission.
In my high school ministry, I stress that getting into college is important, but getting into heaven is more important, and as a Catholic school community, we are committed to forming students for both, integrating religious truths and values for the whole of their lives. In order for our schools to be successful and fulfill their mission on behalf of the students they serve, our schools must instill within them a life of virtue.
As Catholic educators, we do not just focus on the transmission of information from teacher to student and send them off with a diploma certifying they have met the necessary state requirements. We care deeply about the kind of person our students become during their time with us.
What is ultimately at stake is the good of souls and the integrity of the Catholic Church’s apostolic mission. It is my ongoing prayer that our schools continue to be a center for learning and formation where guided by the Holy Spirit, parents and educators together will collaborate in giving students a complete Catholic education, giving them the faith-based tools to learn, serve, lead, and succeed.
Father Mark Clarke, CMF, is chaplain at Antonian College Preparatory High School.