“School Days, School Days, Dear Old Golden Rule Days”
Most of us can sing that ditty and fondly recall the experience of routine, order, friends and escapades of our childhood. For many of us those days were in Catholic schools. We remember the events, whether as a student, teacher or parent. Catholic schools, mainly parish schools, fit our needs and the culture of the times. This week we celebrate the Catholic schools of today. Those schools from pre-school to graduate school are adapting the strengths of the past to fit the current times. The theme of this week, Catholic Schools: Communities of Knowledge, Faith and Service, expresses this well. A brief look at some of the elements in the theme brings that home.
Communities: a place to belong, a place of relationships. Growing into the person God intends us to be calls for loving interaction with others. A true community provides room for growth, guidance and discovery. It is the nourishing atmosphere all need. Community is an essential element of our faith and the Catholic school can help to furnish the environment that promotes growth.
During the years I served as superintendent, I frequently received calls from parents inquiring about the best school for their child. My answer was always the same: visit the school and ask yourself if you feel at home in this place. Feeling at home is a critical piece for learning.
Knowledge: another need. Even though information is flooding our world, knowledge can be in short supply. While good teachers always helped students move beyond the facts and figures, the sheer volume of the content makes that even more challenging today. Critical thinking and questioning, especially in context of faith, is a needed skill for all students.
Sometimes Catholic schools are criticized for not inviting questions. In actuality that would be a very uncatholic attitude. If we truly value creation, our world and our ability to think, we must value curiosity and raise questions. That is the way we learn.
Faith: a unique contribution of a religious education to well-being of the student. As human persons, created by a loving God, we cannot separate our lives into compartments. As both body and spirit, faith calls us to look beyond ourselves and find ultimate meaning. This is a lifetime project and the environment of a Catholic school provides a good starting point and/or a strong addition to the family values.
Service: the final topic mentioned in the theme. Service should be a natural consequence of community, knowledge and faith. True education broadens the outlook of a student. Each of those elements demands that we consider others and not just live for ourselves. A Catholic school environment makes service an integral part of life while a student and hopefully, an integral part of life throughout the years. Mission trips, food drives, visiting a nursing home are all ways to serve and this is an essential component of a good education.
Catholic schools have changed radically over the past few years. If you visited your old school today, most likely you would not recognize the place. Technology, greater awareness of individual talents, more inclusion of persons with special needs, financial transparency and governance changes have all contributed to the alterations. While these changes occur, the fundamentals of faith, community, worship and service remain as strong as ever. I am grateful for the years I have been privileged to spend in this ministry.
In the past, Catholic schools took on the special challenge of educating women, immigrants and the poor. That legacy needs not only to be continued, but increased. Those needs are present in today in new and challenging ways. The question is, “Can we respond and will we?”
Catholic Schools: Communities of Knowledge, Faith and Service. May you shine brightly and bring your gifts to our world!