The Constant Convert
Holiness, Not Hot Air
On a Friday morning, I walked into a room full of young women. They sat in desks arranged in a circle, with a habited Sister amongst them mediating discussion. The discussion was even in tone, conversational, intelligent. The women were discussing a text, to which they referred regularly, highlighting passages, and raising points or questions that moved the conversation forward. No one argued. The other women in the room listened intently to whomever was speaking. They read each other's body language, and waited until the speaker completed her point before anyone else chimed in.
This kind of mature discourse would be difficult to find on many college campuses. Students must be taught how to do it correctly. I'm hard pressed to remember a seminar from my own college experience in which everyone had read and apparently understood the assigned text, much less could they discuss the reading without interrupting one another and pushing the conversation toward emotional arguments.
Impressively, this seminar took place at a high school, Mount De Sales Academy, just outside of Baltimore, a single-sex Catholic high school operating under the guidance of Nashville Dominican nuns. Perhaps more impressively, the text to which they referred was Blessed John Henry Newman's "An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine," which is, to say the least, difficult reading.
"Holiness, not hot air!" was the goal listed on the rubrics for the course, and it brings to light the bright potential of Catholic Education when faith is integrated into every aspect of the school experience, rather than tacked onto the beginning and the end of the school day with opening and dismissal prayer.
Students at Mount de Sales wear blazers, skirts, and a miraculous medal around their necks. The chapel is located in the middle of the school's historic facility, and students passing through it genuflect on their way to class. Many times a day, the young women are made aware of the presence of Jesus in their midst, either through the physical presence of the Sacrament in their school building, through the Christ-like example of the Sisters and faithful lay people who teach them, and through the other students striving to live Christ-like lives.
"We are body and soul," says school principal, Sister Anne Catherine Burleigh, OP. "And there is a body and soul to the school as well. We cannot afford not to be academic. There's no choice to be made between faith and academics. You can be both."
Sister Anne Catherine notes that Catholic schools have a mission, which is the same mission as that of the universal church: to inform, to form (character and virtue), and to transform (go out and evangelize). "I think many schools struggle to create an identity, coming up with mission statements and so forth, but the mission of Catholic education comes from the tradition of the Church. We articulate our Catholic identity a thousand times a day when we live faithful lives."
Elizabeth Duffy is a freelance writer and author of the blog, "Betty Duffy." Her writing has appeared online at Faith and Family, the Korrektiv Press Blog, and numerous other venues. She and her husband live in rural Indiana with their five children.