Anchorage, Alaska, Feb 3, 2013 / 01:12 pm (CNA).- In societies that have largely forgotten or abandoned Christianity, Catholic schools are often seen as vital tools for reintroducing faith to the wider culture.
Principal Jim Bailey of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School can testify to this. He was in the process of entering the Catholic Church when he became the principal of the South Anchorage elementary school in 2008.
The children will lead
“Being principal strengthened my desire to join the church,” Bailey told the Catholic Anchor.
He credits the Catholic school experience and its immersion in faith with influencing him. It is a phenomena he sees occur with many parents who send their children to Catholic school.
This year, Bailey said the school has at least three parents going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults — the process by which adults are introduced to the Roman Catholic Church.
“And that’s fairly typical,” Bailey said of parents who come to the faith through their contact with the school. Evangelization, he said, is the natural outgrowth of being part of a Catholic school community.
Non-Catholics or inactive Catholics may send their children to Catholic schools for academic reasons, smaller class sizes or better discipline, but often the faith component draws them in unexpectedly, Bailey observed.
Family of faith
Stacy Reiman, the mother of a kindergartner at Holy Rosary Academy in Anchorage, agrees. Her young son, Nicolas, was baptized at a school Mass on Jan. 17.
When Nicolas asked his mom if he could be baptized as a Catholic, she was willing because “it’s something I’ve been gravitating towards for some time.”
Raised an Episcopalian, Reiman said she has been pondering the direction of her faith and “anytime I’d have a question about something, I’d Googled it and discover that the Catholic answer seemed to conform to my own thoughts.”
But she wasn’t sure how far to involve her family — husband Robert, son Nicolas and her two preschool-aged daughters. Then came Nicolas’ request, which Reiman views as “a bit of a sign” and clearly the result of his school environment.
“From the first day I walked into the school, I felt embraced by a warm community of believers who welcome you into this family,” she said. “It’s the most loving community I’ve encountered since I moved to Anchorage.”
She also said she appreciates the pro-family atmosphere of the Catholic school.
Holy Rosary principal Catherine Neumayr thinks a welcoming environment and an emphasis on prayer help draw people into the faith through Catholic education. Holy Rosary students maintain a list with prayer requests, and frequently school Masses are offered for people in need in the community. This adds an element to Catholic education that public schools don’t offer. In addition to prayer for families in need, the Catholic school also offers assistance with care and casseroles.
Power of the Mass
Father Scott Garrett, pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Wasilla where Our Lady of the Valley School is located said he has seen “quite a few people come into the church through their association with a Catholic school.”
Father Garrett is himself a convert, and his best childhood friend was also non-Catholic.
“He married a Catholic, but never went to church,” Father Garrett said. “But after they sent their kids to Catholic school, he became a devout Catholic.”
When people become involved with what their children are learning, they begin to appreciate the faith in a whole new way, Father Garrett explained.
Perhaps one of the greatest conversion mechanisms is the Mass itself. Some people who attend their children’s weekday Mass come because they want to see their children in a liturgical role, as a reader or cantor. They might never ordinarily attend Sunday Mass much less a weekday Mass, but find themselves drawn by the church’s liturgy in ways they never expected.
“When we brought the school (from a strip mall in Wasilla) onto the church property this year some people in the parish were a little hesitant,” Father Garrett recalled. “But when the school kids became involved in the Friday parish Mass, I couldn’t believe the unity it brought to the whole parish and to those who attend that Mass.”
Tom Sorci, principal of Lumen Christi High School in Anchorage, said that on the very morning the Catholic Anchor called him for comments, “I had a parent come to me and say he’d like to become a Catholic.”
Moreover, like other school principals, Sorci has seen many Catholic parents become more engaged and active in their faith as a result of being involved with Catholic schooling.
Sometimes the Catholic school plants a seed in students and families that may bloom later, Sorci said.
“We have two graduates from last year’s class who are now in the process of becoming Catholic,” he continued. “Sometimes our non-Catholic graduates go off to college and discover they are more Catholic than some of the Catholic kids they meet.”
Posted with permission from Catholic Anchor, official publication of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.