I recently had the opportunity to attend several of our Catholic school graduations and I would like to share some thoughts and comments.
For a Catholic school to be truly Catholic — and not just a good school with a daily religion class — several things are required.
First and foremost, everything that happens in the school must be centered on Christ. From the decisions made by the administration on programming and curriculum to the posters and messages on the bulletin board, the question must be asked, “Will this action help our students encounter Christ?”
Giuliana Renda, a student at Divine Redeemer Catholic School, said that recently students in her eighth-grade class were asked two questions. The first question was: “How has your Catholic education and time at Divine Redeemer brought you closer to Christ and his Church?” and “How will you go forth and make disciples of others?”
Her response to the first question, she indicated, was really quite easy to answer.
“You see, Divine Redeemer has an environment where Christ and our faith is part of everything we do. One would have to, quite literally, have no pulse in order to not be enmeshed in Christianity,” she said. She then shared classmates’ comments:
“I didn’t realize it, but until I attended Divine Redeemer, I was losing my religion.” “Divine Redeemer has taught me that my life has immense purpose because I am a child of God.” Giuliana concluded that she and her classmates were able to answer the questions easily and sincerely because of the faith experiences and faith-based education they had received at Divine Redeemer.
Secondly, for a school to be truly Catholic, the faculty must be knowledgeable and passionate about the faith. The faculty needs to understand and be able to explain the interconnectedness of all that is taught. They intentionally teach how concepts and ideas relate not only to reality but to God’s creation. By teaching that concepts are important to reality, but often also have a divine purpose, students are encouraged to seek the truth, beauty and goodness of what is being taught, not just memorize isolated facts for a test. The way teachers respond to questions, relate ideas or the examples they use to explain a concept matter.
Peter Stinar from St. Paul Catholic School shared how attending daily Mass was important to his class. Msgr. Jaeger asked students questions about the readings so that they learned to listen and pay attention to the readings, Peter said. He thanked his parents and all his teachers and indicated that his school had been, “a spiritually enriching environment where we were celebrated for who we are and encouraged to reach our God-given potential.” He indicated that, because of the “outstanding teachers and staff, I have grown tremendously both academically and spiritually.”
A third characteristic of a truly Catholic school is community — not just the kind of community where people get along or share a common activity. A Catholic school is to be a faith community — one where everyone understands that they were intentionally placed in the community by God, called by him to share their gifts and in doing so, help him to complete his work. Members of the community are called to be role models of faith, challenge and encourage each other to grow in faith and help each other get to heaven.
Peyton Bock from St. Peter Catholic School in Monument quoted Mother Teresa, stating “Life is a struggle, accept it. Life is an adventure, dare it. Life is an opportunity, benefit from it. Life is too precious, do not destroy it. Life is Life, fight for it!” Life happens in community, and Peyton wanted all the teachers, staff, priests, administrators and parents “to know how special they are.” She thanked them for “believing in us when we might have doubted, for encouraging us when we wanted to give up, for simply loving us for who we are.”
Graduations are a time for reflecting, thanking others and looking to the future.
Lisa Ward from Corpus Christi Catholic School said, “The values that we have learned during our time at Corpus Christi will remain with us.” A Catholic school partners with parents to teach many important values and concepts. At our Catholic schools, students learn that God is their father, they are a child of God and so are their classmates. Everyone deserves dignity and respect. They learn to work hard and excel academically because God has a plan for the gifts he has given each of them. They are taught that everything they have is a gift from God, and they are to be good stewards of those gifts. They are given the opportunity to serve God and serve others and to work for the common good. They learn to do their best, make a difference, but to never forget the real goal is to get to heaven!
The students’ final reflections say it best. “We see ourselves living our faith purposefully, authentically and in a way that has been modeled for us for so many years. We see ourselves being people of prayer, characterizing God’s goodness through kindness and compassion and remaining in Christ . . .” Through the hard work of parents, priests, teachers — the entire community — they got the most important messages of education.
Teachers all across the country will spend the next few weeks looking at data, evaluating programs, planning changes and interventions for the next school year. Catholic school teachers participate in the same types of meetings and attend the same professional in-services, but the difference is the lens through which they evaluate, plan and ask the question, “What do I need to do/change/learn that will help each student reach their God-given potential?” The students are taught and challenged to live life, answer questions and solve problems using the same faith lens.
Thank you to all who support the efforts of the parents, priests, teachers, and staff who serve in our Catholic schools, and the efforts of the students who desire and receive a quality Catholic school education where they are allowed to encounter Christ daily.
(Holly Goodwin is superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Colorado Springs.)