With Catholic Schools Week starting on Jan. 26, Catholic school communities in the Diocese of Orlando are gearing up for a week of activities, service projects, recognitions and observances centered on the multi-year theme, “Communities of Faith, Knowledge, and Service.”
“God is the center of all Catholic education,” said Bishop John Noonan. “We are made in the image and likeness of God. It’s not just about educating the mind but it’s also the very heart and soul of the person – to teach the person about who they are and to really appreciate the gifts that God has given them.”
Henry Fortier, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Orlando, said Diocese of Orlando schools have long embraced the theme of this special week.
“The theme of faith, knowledge and service is a concise definition of who we are as Catholic schools, with faith being at the center,” he said. “Obviously everything we do is a gift from God to be given back to God.”
As they do throughout the school year, students are opening each day with a prayer or the celebration of Mass.
“There is no better way to begin each day than to offer praise and thanks to God for the gift that is each day,” said Jennifer Heneghan, principal at All Souls Catholic School in Sanford. “It centers us and reminds us of God’s grace and love.”
Fortier said that the Catholic schools within the diocese have always been institutions of academic excellence, repeatedly scoring in the top percentile of standardized testing, including SAT and ACT tests. He noted that because we live in a mobile society, students need to be able to compete on a much broader spectrum. A Catholic education gives them that academic edge.
“Our test scores show that the longer a student is in our Catholic schools, the greater their academic growth is each year,” Fortier said.
When it comes to service, students in Catholic schools in the diocese epitomize this aspect of the theme, Fortier said, adding that the children respond with joyous enthusiasm whenever there is a need to be met in their communities or even half way around the world. Most of the schools have at least one service project planned.
Students at Father Lopez Catholic High School in Daytona Beach will raise awareness of the plight of the homeless when they stage a lock-out and sleep outside for one night with only a cardboard box for shelter. Prior to the event, they will solicit sponsorships, allowing them to “rent” necessities, such as sleeping bags and blankets. All items to be used at the event will ultimately be donated to the Homeless Coalition of their community, while funds raised will be used to purchase food for the Stop Hunger Now Meal Packaging Program.
The children of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in St. Cloud will beautify the campus grounds, while middle school students at St. James Cathedral School in Orlando will take on the challenge of packaging 10,000 meals for the poor in West Africa. Students at Resurrection Catholic School in Lakeland have committed to doing 400 hours of community service during Catholic Schools Week.
“When we look at these three words — faith, knowledge and service, they are just three words, but they have a huge amount of meaning for everything that we do,” Fortier said. “The gifts we are given, the faith we have, and the knowledge we receive are meant to serve God.”