In the weeks and days leading to Christmas, parents search for the “perfect” gifts for their children. To the delight of retailers and advertisers, moms and dads spend time, energy, and resources in their quest for the latest, sought-after toy, game, book or adventure that will make a memorable Christmas gift. 

Education and faith formation are precious gifts that parents give their children at home, at school and at the parish every day and throughout the year. They are gifts that last a lifetime. And to those parents who chose a Catholic school or parish religious education program for their child, this season of giving is an opportune moment to say “thank you!” 

A gift of hope

Christmas is a perfect time to also express gratitude to benefactors whose generosity makes possible the gift of Catholic education across this archdiocese. In this school year, the Catholic Education Foundation of the Archdiocese of Washington is awarding some $6.1 million in tuition assistance to approximately 8,000 students. Various religious education and school initiatives are made possible by the kindness of benefactors to Catholic education in this archdiocese. This generosity is a gift of hope to students and their families who wish to experience daily the blessings of Catholic education. 

Those entrusted with the Church’s educational mission – school principals, teachers, and catechists – are grateful to parents who choose a Catholic school or parish religious education program. Dedicated school administrators, teachers and catechists across this archdiocese daily partner with parents as the primary educators of their children. Those who serve Catholic education serve the mission of the Church to proclaim the life-giving message of the Gospel to all. They provide an academically excellent, faith-filled education and spiritual formation that prepares a child for a future of professional success and service of others in a faith-filled life.  

In this season of gift giving and receiving, here are three reasons why Catholic education and faith formation are life-impacting gifts that parents can give their child:

Education for holiness Of all the gifts a parent gives their child, the gift of faith is the most consequential. For faith transforms life as it shapes the core of who we are and who we become. Catholic education rests on the assumption that each child is a gift from God, with a God-given capacity for a fulfilled life in service of others. Whether a child is Catholic or not, the experience of Catholic education leads him or her to realize their God-given dignity and worth as a child of God. Catholic educators see each student not as mere consumers of an educational product, but as a child with incomparable dignity who comes from the creating hand of a loving God. In a Catholic school, a child discovers his or her unique vocation to holiness and the path to live the life God intended for them.  Education for success Catholic schools educate for success. In a Catholic school a student is educated according to established standards of academic rigor, intellectual excellence and faith formation. Catholic school teachers and catechists work hard to provide children with academic and spiritual formation guided by recognized norms of pedagogical excellence and faith formation curriculum standards. Every day our teachers encourage hard work, discipline, and personal responsibility that shape the kind of person a child will grow up to be. With vital skills of critical thinking, self-reflection, and openness to the Holy Spirit, children discover that what is learned in the classroom today is preparing them for their life’s vocation and their future professional careers. Education in a safe, child-centered environment

In preparing for and welcoming the Christ Child at Christmas, we recognize that we are not alone on the journey of faith. God first accompanies us by coming in flesh as the humble child of Bethlehem. In classrooms around this archdiocese, Catholic educators extend this ministry of accompaniment to students every day. As teachers accompany children on their intellectual, spiritual, and human journeys, they sow the seeds of respect, compassion, and service of others that transform culture. By daily accompanying the children entrusted to their care, they restore in each child an unshakeable confidence in his or her God-given capacity for truth, and strengthen their self-confidence rooted in their dignity as a child of God.  

The safety of children is a priority for those who serve the mission of Catholic schools. The Catholic Schools Office and the Office for Child Protection collaborate daily to ensure the safety and protection of children as a priority in Catholic schools. 

Some 26,000 students in Catholic school classrooms around this archdiocese receive the gift of Catholic education every day. This gift enables a child to be academically accomplished, skilled in critical thinking, respectful and passionate in serving others in community. We are thankful for the opportunity to share the gift of education as we celebrate the greatest gift of God who desires to dwell among us in the mystery of the Incarnation.

And as parents share in their children’s joy in receiving gifts this Christmas, we are grateful that Catholic education and faith formation are among the gifts that parents give to impact positively their child’s future.

(Sullivan serves as Secretary for Education for the Archdiocese of Washington.)