By Dr. Matthew Vereecke
Special to The Texas Catholic
The last 18 months have been unlike anything any of us have seen within our lifetimes, and have produced some profound changes to how we all interact with the world and with each other.
For our Catholic Schools, this has been seen at a national level in a dramatic fight to merely survive. We know that over 200 Catholic Schools closed in the 2020 school year alone, including a few right here in Texas, and it was not so long ago that real questions were being asked as to whether it would even be possible to open Catholic Schools in the middle of a pandemic.
I can still vividly remember the first virtual meeting that we had with principals as we were all leaning on each other to better understand our new reality and the path forward for our students, faculty and parents. The most striking characteristic of that day was the hope that I saw in our leadership. Despite the incredible odds and the great unknown, they focused on the fact that they were people with hope to bring, and they understood the question facing them was not if we could succeed, but merely how.
The heroes within our system managed, over the course of four short months, to create an entirely from scratch virtual education platform for all students within the diocese. They poured over data, protocols and the latest research to determine ways to return to school in the fall. They changed their buildings, arranged for new classrooms, installed implemented safety procedures and then trained all members of their community on the approaches that became so familiar last year. They did all of this without complaint, without rest, and oftentimes in direct opposition to forces outside of their control. They did it because they are people with hope to bring. They did it because they believe that all students entrusted to our care have a right to thrive as Saints and Scholars.
I know that the pandemic is far from over, and we have many challenges left to face. Despite this, we are seeing tremendous signs of life within our system as the school year begins. Enrollment has dramatically recovered and is nearing our 2019 levels. We have new tools and resources to support our schools, and are seeing the blossoming of The HALO Initiative, a new non-profit that is working among and alongside our Catholic Schools to develop innovative programs and pilot new ideas to strengthen and grow our system. We are partnering with mental health organizations in the DFW area to ensure that our students will have supports to protect them not only physically, but in the mental stresses and anguish they have faced over the course of the last year. Our leadership believes they have a responsibility to ensure that nothing, not even a global pandemic, can get in the way of our mission to your children.
We cannot predict the future, but the men and women who you have entrusted your children to are dedicated to ensuring they will define it. It is why they worked tirelessly to arrive back at this point, and why they are continuing to push and grow and thrive. We would ask for your prayers and for your support as we continue on the great work of forming Saints and Scholars in our Catholic Schools, and for God’s great blessing on all as we undertake this year.
Dr. Matthew Vereecke is the superintendent of the Diocese of Dallas Catholic Schools.