I have just returned from a week-long workshop for associate pastors at St. Meinrad. I spent the week with my former classmates, men I studied at seminary with for six years. We traded lots of stories. I think I win. I think I have the best parish, the best pastor, the best school. I found myself missing our school a lot while I was gone. We only miss what we love of course. I love our school. I love it and believe it in with all my heart. I want to share on this first day of Catholic Schools Week five reasons that I love Catholic schools and ours in particular.
- I love Catholic schools because God gave them to us, to our Church. Our Church would be incomplete without them. Catholic schools are not just something nice that we do or have. They are part of what and who we are. You just can’t imagine the Church without its schools. They have been part of our history since the start. The gospel today tells us about how Jesus taught in the synagogue. Synagogues had rabbis (teachers), and that’s what Jesus started as, while the temple had the priest. The synagogues were religion schools, places of prayer where folks also learned the scriptures and God’s ways. There was a rule that they had to be built in any area that had more than 10 people living in it. We have had schools of religion like them since. Let’s think about our schools here in the Archdiocese, like our own. Thousands upon thousands of nuns gave their lives for them. I mean those nuns actually laid the bricks; they poured their blood and sweat and lives into our schools. That’s how important Catholic education is. Catholic schools are worth our blood. They are worth our every penny. In fact, the Council of Baltimore (1850s) said that every parish ought to have a school, so important are they. Why are they so important? Jesus–and we see this in the gospel today–loved his early disciples enough to teach them. He loves us the same and teaches us, too. He teaches us through his body the church–and especially through its Catholic schools–such that Christ is the ultimate teacher in our school. Parents who send their children to our school make the statement that no one can teach their children as well as the body of Christ the Church can. And that is a beautiful statement!
- I love Catholic schools because they teach friendship with and faithfulness to God. You know, our test scores are great at OLG. Academics are important to us and we take them seriously. But the most important lesson we teach is friendship with God. We do that well. We pray together. There is a spirit of prayer at our school. Kids stop me in the halls or lunchroom to ask for confession or to have their necklaces or rosaries blessed. They tell me to pray for this or that loved one. Every day starts with prayer and ends with prayer, and prayer is in the middle of each day, too. We pray the Angelus each day. We pray at meals. But we live in a spirit of prayer all the time. And that spirit of faith that permeates everything–it makes all the difference in our lives. Catholic schools teach that God has a will and plan for everyone–just as our first reading says it today–and they teach us to look for that will and embrace it. It is not a coincidence that most of our priests went to Catholic schools. On a personal note, I do not think I would be a priest today were it not for my Catholic school St. Charles.
- I love Catholic schools because of their atmosphere. You go into our school and you will feel what I’m talking about. Love and virtue and friendship fill the hallways. That is the stuff of our second reading. I mean our school is a holy place with holy people–with teachers who love Jesus enough to teach him, with parents who love Jesus enough to sacrifice so that their kids can come here, and with kids who love Jesus better than anybody else. I see it in their faces at Wednesday Mass and on the playground. I see it in them all the time. At OLG and any Catholic school, you cannot help but take in the air of sanctity and joy that fills the hallways and classrooms. Surround yourselves with what is holy and you will become holy. I see the truth in that statement in our school each day. Maybe one day I will write a book about it.
- I love Catholic schools because they are places of community, they are places where we belong, they are home. God loves us enough to give us each other, you see. We need each other to grow in any kind of meaningful way. We all have families and that is great, the most important. But we also need larger communities of faith, communities of faith that we interact with more than once a week for an hour. We can’t grow alone, but in a classroom with 25 others…you bet. The friendships forged in Catholic schools survive for a long time thereafter. That is my story. Some of my best firneds to this day, we graduated 8th grade together. I remember that feeling I had when I went back to my Catholic school after having been in public high school for a while. I felt like I was back home, where I belonged. I was home. Each student at our school–each one of them matters. I pray for them by name and so do their teachers. Why? Because they are part of the family.
- I love Catholic schools because they are fun. When asked why he likes school, a preschooler wrote on his “Get to know me” sheet in the hallway: “Because I am happy here.” I think almost all of our kids are genuinely happy here. I know I am. And that is because this school is a place where the joy and love of Christ shine forth in everyday life. Praise God.
Allow me to conclude a topic that I could rattle on for days about. On behalf of Msgr. Mark, who is preaching about the same thing this weekend, I want to say thank you for supporting our school. Maybe you have kids at our school now. Thank you for making the sacrifices necessary to send your children here. Maybe you are one of the 50 couples I have in marriage prep and kids are in the future. Great! Our school will be ready for you when your children are born. Maybe you are thinking about school options. Think and pray hard about OLG. Maybe you have memories of Catholic school days from 50 years ago. Thank God for those and let’s together help give wonderful memories and lessons to our kids here at OLG. But everyone should join me in thanking God for the legacy and life of Catholic schools, and ours in particular. We pray God’s blessing upon our school for generations to come. Happy Catholic School’s Week.