I just finished attending several Masses and graduations from our Catholic schools, and each was such a gift and gave me hope for the future of our diocese. The words of the pastors, principals and students let me know we are on the right track.
Following are some excerpts from homilies and speeches given by pastors and Catholic-school administrators during graduation ceremonies that took place in May:
• “Know that you are loved and you are encouraged to come back and visit. Know that we are here for you. The teachers have put their heart and soul into forming you as a disciple of Christ and educating your mind and helping you grow in virtue.”
• “Catholic schools are a gift you have been given from your parents, the parishioners and all the Catholics in the diocese. Wherever you go to high school, take Christ there. Show the other students the joy that comes from being a follower of Christ.”
• “It has been my honor and privilege to teach you and prepare you for Confirmation. You have the gifts of the Holy Spirit and you have a mission, I know you will make us proud — be courageous, be thoughtful, be thankful.”
• “Graduation does not mean you walk out the door of your Catholic school and parish. It means you walk out to bring others back in with you.”
• “You are the first generation to grow up in America in what is being called the ‘post-Christian’ era. That means that, for the first time in the history of America, more people do not believe in Christ than do, and more do not practice a faith than do. We have high expectations and we expect you to bring others to Christ. Our Church needs you, America needs you — now go make a difference!”
Many students received awards for academics and various other achievements: 4.0 honor roll for the quarter or year; perfect attendance; attention to detail; completing assignments; living the faith; subjects such as music, art, math, reading, writing, science, drama, sports and technology; and virtues such as citizenship, leadership, service and religion.
But in listening to the students’ reflections on their best memories, the awards were not the things that most stood out in their minds.
Ganin from Corpus Christi School began his reflection with the daily pledge the students make each morning. “Today I promise to keep Jesus in my mind, on my lips, and in my heart.” He went on to say that, “Corpus Christi has taught us to respect ourselves and others by living the virtues. We have learned to let our Catholic values be our moral compass rather than do whatever is trending at the moment . . . .”
Maddie from Ave Maria had a rough spot in her eighth-grade year but responded with: “Thank you so much for everything you have done and for the support you gave me for the last three years but especially this year during my illness. I will miss Ave Maria and all the teachers so much! I am very excited to be going to high school, but it is bittersweet leaving Ave Maria! I will miss all of you!”
Jacob from Divine Redeemer School shared his classmates’ responses about how their time at Divine Redeemer brought them closer to God: “By showing us how everything we do has a connection to our faith and God; Monday Mass helps me be calm and make it through the week, and Thursday Mass is a reminder that we are a community.”
When asked how they would go forth and make disciples of others, the Divine Redeemer students responded: “By rebelling against modern society and walking closer to Christ.” They concluded with, “I want my children to go to Divine Redeemer; our belief in Catholicism is the superglue holding us together. Our faith is taught, lived and loved at our school.”
David from St. Paul School shared that, as he reflected on his 11 years in Catholic school, gratitude was very high on his list. He was grateful for his parents’ support and for his brother and sister, who were role models of faith for him; his teachers who went the extra mile; the ladies in the office who took care of him when he was hurt; the people in the cafeteria who fixed lunch for him; homilies at daily Mass; and all the priests and deacons from whom he had received the sacraments. He was grateful for his parents taking him to Mass each Sunday, and all who had helped him grow spiritually.
Elisa from St. Peter School in Monument was grateful for the freedom to be able to talk about God, pray at school and be surrounded by people who cared about faith. She shared memories about programming robots, cooking class, being part of the yearbook team, the school musical and dressing up as a favorite saint on All Saints’ Day. She said she appreciated the way her classmates made new students feel welcome and considered St. Peter her second home.
These bright, hardworking young people are normal middle-school students who have been encouraged and allowed to view the world, creation, family and life through a Catholic lens. They worked hard and succeeded academically because they understood their gifts came from God and they were given for a purpose. They appreciated that they started their day with prayer, that their school day included time for Mass, adoration, praying the rosary, and providing service for others. They enjoyed participating in the many faith traditions of our Church and their schools. They understood that their Catholic education was a gift, and they believed it when their pastor said, “You are Christian, a follower of Christ. Live like you believe it!”
What a privilege and blessing to partner with parents to form and educate the next generation of Catholics. Please pray for our graduates and their mission, the parents, pastors, priest, religious, princpals, teachers, and staff who serve in our Catholic schools. Pray that God continues to bless our efforts.
Pray also for all the Catholic youth of our diocese. If we are to fulfill our commitment to pass the faith to the next generation, it will take all of us.
Wouldn’t it be great if, no matter where you attend graduation, the students started by thanking God out loud, and their best memories included attending youth ministry events, Mass, adoration and praying as a family? Wouldn’t it be great if, when asked what their future plans included, the first thought that came to their minds was heaven? Join me in thanking God for all our Catholic youth, in praying for them, for our Church and America.
(Holly Goodwin is superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Colorado Springs.)