When I was asked to write a short essay on why Catholic schools are important in 2014, I, like any good educator, decided to cheat. I asked Notre Dame Catholic School’s 8th Graders to do it for me. I told them that a list of reasons was due the next day (“No, you don’t have to write in complete sentences this time (AND ONLY THIS TIME!); yes, it will be a grade…”).
Now, I know our kids. They are faith-filled, joyful, kind, respectful, energetic, and very bright … but they’re teenagers (AHHHH!). I didn’t know what to expect, though I figured soccer and basketball might be prominent among their responses.
When I was growing up, parents worried about things like MTV and AOL Instant Messenger. Those things are ancient history. Between iPods, iPads, and iPhones, the very nature of identity – of “I” – has changed. Facebook has co-opted the idea “friend.” Twitter invites us to “follow.” We shut out the real world with our headphones and bury ourselves in user-friendly, intuitive interfaces.
Such, at least, is what we “adults” grumble about (“Well, sonny, when I was your age…”). The Church, however, is doing something quite different. The Pope Tweets! Our own Bishop Melczek is on YouTube (if you don’t believe me, Google it)!
But what does this have to do with why Catholic schools are so important today? Why am I not writing about pre-marital sex and crime and gangs and the economy and terrorism and poverty and empty pews…? On the other hand, why am I not talking about high standardized test passing rates and college matriculation and rigor and discipline and innovation?
Notre Dame’s 14 year olds (“AHHHH! Teenagers! Run!”), given complete freedom to talk about what is important to them, focused on these themes: Faith, Family, Vocations, Morals, Service, Caring, Gratitude, Learning, Connectedness, and Future.
We don’t give our young people nearly enough credit. They are more than aware of all the struggles and troubles in the world. They know that something isn’t right. They know that there is more out there. There is a thirst for love and joy and connectedness. There is an energy and a vibrancy and a vitality. There is an honest innocence. There is a yearning for Truth (note the capital “T”).
Our young people are telling us exactly what they need and value, and it happens to be the Gospel. Today’s youth – the youth with iPhones and headphones and Facebook and Twitter (and maybe even the youth with intentionally messy hair, though I’m not sure about that) – are hungry for the Word of God, for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and for life-giving relationships with one another.
It’s time for us adults to plug-in, log-on, and get connected – or, dare I say, reconnected. Catholic schools are important in 2014 not because there are troubles all around us. Catholic schools are important in 2014 because there is hope all around us, and hope does not disappoint.
Benjamin Devin John Potts, Ed.M., is the Principal of Notre Dame Catholic School in the Diocese of Gary, Indiana. He is also a member of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program's eleventh cohort. For more information on the Remick Leadership Program, please click here.
Notre Dame Catholic School is a ministry of the Notre Dame Catholic Community that fosters learning through an unsurpassed faith-based education and prepares young people for extraordinary lives. For more information on Notre Dame Catholic School, please click here.
The following essay was the winning composition in this year’s Catholic Schools’ Week Essay Contest.
Catholic schools: Communities of faith, knowledge, service
By Michael Schultz
When prompted to write about Catholic schools, all I could think was, “What can I say about Catholic schools?”
The real question I should have been asking myself was: “How can I put into words how great the experience of Catholic education has been for me?”
I am tremendously grateful for all of the fruits in my life that are the result of my Catholic education. Catholic schools have planted the seeds of faith, knowledge and service within me and I will continue to nourish and help them grow throughout the rest of my life.
Not only have Catholic schools taught our faith to me, but they have also given to me the opportunities and resources to share our faith with others. Attending Catholic schools has taught to me the teachings of the Church regarding social justice and the dignity of all people. By learning this, I’ve had the motivation to help care for the poor and pray for the unborn, at home, and in the real world at soup kitchens and at abortion clinics.
I have deepened my faith through prayer, presence at Mass, attending retreats and taking theology classes. I have learned different ways of sharing this faith in the ways I live and act. Instead of simply presenting our collection of beliefs on paper, they have taken us to Mass, on visits to nursing homes and food banks, and on retreats to show us how we can spread the Good News in our everyday lives. The sharing of faith has been the key to my success at Catholic schools.
Catholic schools have been the pillar of my eagerness to gain knowledge. They have taught such things as math and English, but they have also challenged me to think critically about real world problems. They have given to me the opportunity to test myself in competitions such as the Governor’s Cup and Quick Recall.
They challenge me in honors classes, and rigorous Advance Placement college level classes. Catholic schools have taught the importance of education through the many great teachers I have had. I attribute a large portion of my work ethic to my eighth-grade math teacher, who pushed me to do my best and work hard. For me, she made learning more relatable to the student through her in depth lesson plans and willingness to help with assignments outside of school.
The things I have been taught are very important to me because they have been made more meaningful in the way they are presented. And, throughout the learning experience, Catholic schools have also reminded me that all knowledge is from God.
One of the most powerful things that Catholic schools have given me is the willingness to serve. From the time I was in lower grades to the present, stewardship has been strongly encouraged and challenged. I have been empowered to give of myself by completing service hours for confirmation and annual requirements. In attending field trips to Dare to Care, the Ronald McDonald House and soup kitchens, I have been shown face to face the need and call for service that God gives us.
Being of service to others is not just something I can think about, but it is a way of living that I’ve been taught. The service I have completed through Catholic schools has made a lasting imprint on me, and I hope, on those for whom I served.
The education that I have received at Catholic schools has made me a more complete person. Not only am I prepared educationally, but I am also prepared with my faith for the rest of my life. I have been encouraged to go out into the real world and be of service to others. I have learned that “you never stop learning,” and “you can never stop praying” at the same place. Catholic schools are the only places that can bind faith, knowledge and service together to develop the whole student, not just his or her brain.
Michael Schultz is a sophomore at St. Francis DeSales High School.
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