Patrick J. Reilly is president and founder of The Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes and defends faithful Catholic education. He also teaches at Aquinas Learning, a classical Catholic homeschool program led by his wife Rosario. They have five children.
An American bishop stood strong last week in support of Catholic homeschoolers, just days after some bishops at the Youth Synod in Rome reported comments that were offensive to homeschool parents.
On Friday, Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington celebrated his second annual Mass for homeschooling families. The Diocese reported “hundreds” in attendance.
“Dear parents thank you so much for taking seriously that responsibility of being the first teachers of the faith,” Bishop Burbidge said during his homily at Holy Trinity Church in Gainesville, Virginia, according to the Arlington Catholic Herald.
His words were especially welcome, after an unnamed group of English-speaking bishops at the Youth Synod questioned in their interim report on Oct. 9 whether parents are “qualified” to teach their children. The bishops claimed an “ideological basis” to homeschooling and noted that the U.S. bishops are “not united” in support of the practice.
Bishop Burbidge, however, clearly sees how important homeschooling has been to Catholic families in his diocese. More from Saturday’s article in the Herald:
“You may not always see the visible and immediate results that you want as homeschool teachers, but you can be assured that the seeds you are planting God will use miraculously. Thank you for the gift you are to the diocese and to our church,” Bishop Burbidge said.
Throughout the day, organizers of the event and parents expressed their gratitude for his presence.
“It really shows the commitment of the bishop to Catholic education. Whether it is in the schools or in recognizing the importance of the homeschooling community, in both ways he supports parents as the primary educators of their children,” said Diocesan Superintendent of Schools Jennifer Bigelow.
Mary Beth Balint, a homeschooling parent of six children, was thrilled about the Mass, too.
“I was so excited that Bishop Burbidge wanted to offer a Mass for homeschoolers,” said Balint, a key organizer for this year’s event as well as last year’s. “It is just great to have the support and prayers from him. I was eager to jump in and help organize the outdoor activities for the kids after the Mass.”
The support shown by Bishop Burbidge and other bishops holding similar events is a great encouragement to Catholic homeschoolers, who can feel disconnected and even disliked by priests and fellow parishioners. Bishop Burbidge also celebrated an annual homeschool Mass while bishop of Raleigh, North Carolina.
Hopefully such expressions of support are just the beginning of a healthier perspective on Catholic education. While the renewal of faithful parochial and diocesan schools should be among the highest priorities for the Church, so should the growth of Catholic homeschooling and lay-run independent schools that teach the Catholic faith. A corporate mindset that sees these alternatives as competition with the diocesan “brand” is not looking out for the needs of all Catholic families.
When every bishop and diocesan education office actively supports all forms of faithful Catholic education and withdraws support and recognition from institutions that fail to form young people in virtue and faith, we can expect a renewal of Catholic education, the family and the Church.
“Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area: they are educators because they are parents,” affirmed Saint John Paul II in his Letter to Families. God has blessed homeschooling in many ways, and I pray that it continues to gain the support of the Church’s shepherds.