Catholics across the country celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Saturday. Downtown DC saw traffic interrupted for a couple of hours as a procession marched twenty blocks to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Here in suburban Maryland, the fireworks at the nearby church lit up the sky at dusk. I was pleased to find on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception four days earlier, the noon Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral downtown was packed, but there weren’t any fireworks. Latinos know how to celebrate a religious feast!
Coinciding with the celebration was an announcement by the University of Notre Dame that it is working with diocesan school boards to increase Latino enrollment at Catholic schools to one million students by 2020. Last year on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Notre Dame’s president Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., announced the formation of a task force to study the issue and this year, the task force issued its report "To Nurture the Soul of a Nation: Latino Families, Catholic Schools, and Educational Opportunity."
Research cited in the report shows that Latino students who attend Catholic schools quickly close the achievement gap that exists in public schools. But, currently, only 3 percent of Hispanic families send their children to Catholic schools. "Much is at stake," said Juliet Garcia, president of the Univeristy of Texas at Brownsville and one of the co-chairs of the Notre Dame task force. "No less than the future generation of leaders for our country. Catholic schools must remain a steady and strong conduit for the many new generations of Latinos at their doorstep."
Catholic schools have long been an integral part of the cultural estuary for immigrants with the mainstream culture. It is important that America brings people into the mainstream, but that stream is not the proper metaphor for what occurs when two cultures interact, suggesting as it does that whatever enters will get born away with the current. It is an estuary, where the fresh and salt waters interact and neither are exactly the same again. The Church, which is older than the nations, can provide a healthy estuary uniquely for the Church has recognized long before the culture that America needs the fresh water, the giftedness, that immigrants bring.
"We face an urgent moral imperative to serve our nation and our faith by making the Catholic school advantage accessible to millions of talented, under-served Latino children," said Rev. Timothy R. Scully, C.S.C., founder of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education and director of the Institute for Educational Initiatives at Notre Dame. "In doing so, the Catholic community will serve our nation and our faith. These schools will nurture souls but also, as Pope Benedict suggests, they will nurture the soul of our nation."