A devotional book is shown in Joanne Kelly’s fourth-grade class at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish School in Schenectady. Catholic schools provide students with the tools and experience they need to face life’s difficulties with grace and fortitude while serving as living examples of Christ’s light. (Cindy Schultz photo)
A devotional book is shown in Joanne Kelly’s fourth-grade class at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish School in Schenectady. Catholic schools provide students with the tools and experience they need to face life’s difficulties with grace and fortitude while serving as living examples of Christ’s light. (Cindy Schultz photo)

Catholic Schools Week provides us an opportunity to reflect on the unique opportunities and special attributes of a Catholic education each year.

This past year has, of course, provided extraordinary challenges and obstacles for our schools. But it has also provided exceptional opportunities. Opportunities we may have otherwise missed if we did not rise to the occasion.

Across our diocesan Catholic school community, our teachers, administrators, staff, students and families are living our faith through their love and support of one another during an incredibly difficult year.

While we all would prefer the pandemic never surfaced, we cannot wish away adversity. But we can respond with kindness and step up to meet the challenges laid before us — from public health and economic crises, to racial injustice and real and threatened civil unrest.
Month after month for the last 10 months I have been in awe of the depth of creativity, talent, care and stamina of teachers and principals across our system of schools.

The pandemic has reminded us of what we already knew, but may have forgotten amid the to and fro of everyday life before March 2020. That is, there are always opportunities to move forward and continue the critical mission of providing knowledge and nurturing the faith of our children, even if those opportunities reflect something different than we are accustomed to seeing.

Our entire diocesan school community can look ahead to the rest of the 2020-21 school year and beyond with confidence that we will be able to meet future challenges and realize success no matter the obstacles, because we have proven that ability over the last year. If we can accomplish all that was achieved during a global pandemic, imagine what we can do together in the future.

A Catholic school education helps shape lifelong habits and values first taught at home and the pandemic made clear that the impact on students does not come from the hallway or desk in a classroom. It comes from the community that each school creates and the work of our incredible educators — whether they are in front of the classroom or on a computer screen.

It was incredibly gratifying to be able to offer families a choice of virtual or in-person learning for the current school year, to ensure we are providing options for families consistent with their own comfort levels during this time. And we have learned that for some students, remote learning has opened up new opportunities they did not realize were possible, including participating in classes they otherwise would not have experienced.

Catholic school families have always recognized the value of the staff at their child’s school, but we have seen an outpouring of love and support from our families over the last year that has exceeded anything we have seen before. Parents, grandparents and guardians have been true partners in education, helping students navigate a whole new world from the dining room table.

With so many untimely deaths and so much upheaval in the last year, I do not look at these achievements as a “silver lining” because sometimes life is just harder than it should be, and it is not useful or appropriate to minimize that reality.

I do take some comfort however, in seeing how our Catholic schools are providing students with the tools and experience they need to face such difficulties with grace and fortitude. And to serve as living examples of Christ’s light during such a difficult, and at times dark, period.

When the sun is shining, the light of a candle may go unnoticed. But in darkness, that light can stand as a true beacon of hope.

Giovanni Virgiglio is the diocesan chancellor and superintendent of schools.