Author’s Note: For Catholic Schools Week, I’ve been asked to speak to my parish congregation about why, as parents, we chose to send our kids to Catholic school. While my testimony spoke about our Catholic school specifically, I have changed the name to reflect what I think is common to most Catholic schools. Here was my answer.
It was years ago, but it seems as clear as if it were yesterday. I was talking with my dad when he stopped me short. He looked me square in the eyes and simply, but firmly said,
“I’m proud of what you do, but I love you for who you are. Are you listening? I’m proud of what you do, but I love you for who you are.”
I don’t recall the circumstances that prompted him to say that or my sheepish response, but I’ll never forget how special it made me feel.
This wasn’t the first time my dad said this. Nor would it be the last. Growing up, my parents made abundantly clear that to get anywhere in life you need to set clear goals, have a strong work ethic and be honest with God and yourself. And being raised by a school superintendent, English teacher and two sisters aspiring to become teachers, you can only guess the value we placed on education. So between my home and my local public school, there were high expectations to work hard, learn and succeed.
But that was not all.
I was taught that while accomplishments matter and success is important, achievement uninformed by faith, purpose, & character will ultimately be hollow. As my dad said, “It’s not just about what you do, it’s about who you are.” It was a philosophy I have never forgotten and still value deeply.
Well, time has passed. I am now married with two young wonderful children. And three years ago, we had to make an important decision. In the west Metro, arguably a hub of the finest public and private school education in the country, where would we send our daughters? Instead of schools immersing students in language or the arts, we opted for a different type of immersion: Catholic Immersion. We chose to send our girls to the Catholic school here. And we couldn’t be more satisfied.
Now, I can recite for you the data about the robust performance of our Catholic school students on standardized tests or the enviable student-teacher ratio. I could impress you with the diverse class offerings in art, music and Spanish or the deeply skilled and compassionate staff. I could even dazzle you with the Smart Board technology, iPad utilization and cutting edge internet based teaching tools. I could… but that vital data is proudly displayed on the website, in the brochures or available on a school tour. Instead, let me share with you the true spirit of my daughters’ Catholic School:
At my daughters’ Catholic school,
– a child once shy to speak much in class is soon beaming while reading prayer intentions at the School Mass
– you may receive a smiling email from a teacher telling you your daughter looked up at him and said, “God bless you” because he picked her favorite game in gym class.
– you find parents who tow a tractor hundreds of miles simply to pull a school float in the local parade.
– you may find your child spontaneously apologizing at the end of the day for something she said at the beginning of the day simply because of what she learned from the priest’s homily at the School Mass
– you encounter staff, parents and children enthusiastically showing up to pack food for the hungry, rake leaves for the elderly and plant pinwheels for peace
At my daughters’ Catholic school,
– teachers approach you about the right book or exercise for your child, the principal knows your kids and cheers them on by name, and the priest offers wise support at just the right time.
– you may find a child at home thoughtlessly humming a hymn or telling you an interesting fact about St. Benedict, or at the school Talent Show telling corny jokes or belting out Frozen’s “Let It Go”
– staff, parents and students pray for and rally around a spouse who has been sick, a baby soon to be born, or a sixth grader saying goodbye
You see, our Catholic school is more than just a school, it is a deeply invested community. A community. And in a world grown increasingly cold and harsh, a community of faith and warmth is an immeasurably important springboard in these young kids lives. And in ours. Undoubtedly, this school prepares the mind. But by God, it prepares the soul as well. To paraphrase my dad, “Catholic schools are proud of what our kids do, but love them for who they are.”
If you are considering a school community for your child that is rich in academics and rooted in faith, please consider calling, visiting or touring a Catholic school. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed.