Guest Opinion: Catholic schools play significant role in Valley, state


January 31, 2014 

Pope Francis, who has captured the attention of the world, began his career as a high school teacher. He first taught literature and psychology, and then later chemistry as well. He is a member of the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits. The Jesuits are primarily a teaching order, and operate some of the finest schools in the world. So it is safe to say we have a pope who knows something about Catholic education.

Recently, Pope Francis wrote, “Catholic schools and universities have done much good around the world.” That may seem a little brief when you consider that the first schools in the Western world were established by the Catholic Church more than 1,400 years ago. But Pope Francis is a man who values simplicity. With those words, he has said much.

To have “done much good” means to have changed the world by teaching people to read. It means to have established schools in the poorest corners of the world, bringing the gift of education to people who have been given nothing else. Knowledge is power, and Catholic schools have a rich history of bringing knowledge to the most vulnerable people in the world.

Here in Idaho, Catholic education first arrived more than 130 years ago. When you think of the Wild West, a schoolhouse full of nuns might not be the first image that pops into your head. And yet, that was the reality in the late 1880s when the sisters arrived to make sure that the children in the missions and mining towns were taught to read and write.

Today, nearly 2,000 students are enrolled in our Treasure Valley Catholic schools. Five elementary schools — St. Joseph’s, Sacred Heart, St. Mary’s, St. Mark’s and St. Paul’s in Nampa — serve students from pre-K to eighth grade. Bishop Kelly High School serves students in ninth-12th grades. The goal of our schools is still to make Catholic education accessible to anyone who wishes to take part in it. Our students represent diverse ethnicities and cultures. Twenty-five percent of our students come from faith traditions other than Catholic, and 25 percent receive some form of need-based financial aid. But all of our graduates are prepared for college, and a lifetime quest to achieve excellence in learning, service and life.

The mission in our Catholic schools is to “educate and develop the whole student in the Catholic tradition — spirit, mind and body.” This holistic approach focuses on creativity, critical thinking, reflective problem solving, collaboration, effective communication skills, moral decision making, physical balance, healthy relationships, spiritual growth and a commitment to the service of others. Along the way our students receive an exceptional academic foundation that prepares them for college and life beyond.

The results of this preparation and focus are that over 99 percent of our high school graduates go on to college. In addition, over 80 percent of the 142 graduates in the class of 2013 received merit-based scholarships that totaled over $15 million. Our average test scores put us in the top 10 percent of the country and make up the top scores in Idaho. More than 70 percent of our students are involved in extracurricular activities. And they have won numerous state and national championships in athletics, academics, engineering design, Science Olympiad, economics and debate. Finally, each student in the Catholic school system here in the Treasure Valley is learning to be a compassionate and involved citizen by contributing their time and talents to deserving projects and programs in our community.

Today we are in the midst of the 40th annual Catholic Schools Week — celebrated nationwide — which concludes Sunday. During this tribute to our long history of Catholic education, we recognize the significant contributions students, faculty, parents, and alumni make to American society. Here in the Treasure Valley we take pride in knowing that Pope Francis would look at our students and say that our Catholic schools have “done much good.”

Raimondi is president of Bishop Kelly High School. Sobotta is superintendent of Catholic Schools of Idaho.

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