In wrapping up Catholic Schools Week, Word on Fire staffers and contributors share some memories and reflections of our experiences with Catholic education. Tyrannical nuns and uninspired uniforms? Hardly. Think inspiration, dedication and life-altering guidance, today on the Word on Fire blog.
Rozann Carter, WoF Creative Director: My first encounter with formal Catholic education was at the university level when I began my freshman year at Notre Dame. Transitioning from a graduating class of 47 members in a one-stoplight town in rural New Mexico to the sprawling metropolis of South Bend, America, meant that there were "holy moly!" moments occurring quite often for the 18-year-old me ("What? This movie theater has 10 screens? What are these things you call 'pedestrians'? Where is the bonnet store at this mall?"). However, the most significant of these were within this newly-experienced, Catholic educational setting.
Chapels in every dorm, the campus' Grotto constantly glowing with candles representing endless prayers and late-night-study petitions, students gathering for class Masses and small-group rosaries, discussions about things-of-ultimate-importance over a tall cone of fro-yo from the dining hall dessert bar—the environment at ND was the the perfect juxtaposition of the daily-ness of life, relationships, studies, and the task of growing-up, and the transcendent call to lift our hearts and minds to the things of God. Theology was a requirement there; Philosophy filled a couple of spots on every transcript. But, within this comprehensive educational context, theology and philosophy presented themselves as far more than simply disciplines. They infused our prayer, informed our service, gave meaning to our vocational pursuits, and provided the foundation for relationships that will last a lifetime (and one particular Relationship that will take us directly into the next). I'm so grateful for my Catholic education.
Peggy Pandaleon, WoF Marketing Director: Our children did not attend Catholic elementary schools. However, they did attend Loyola Academy, a Jesuit college prep school. The “hidden” value from a Catholic high school is that just at the time your kids are becoming independent and sometimes rebellious, Christian family’s value’s are reinforced by the whole environment of the school. Even though our kids have had questions, drifted a bit and are still making the Faith their own, they have never abandoned Christ.
Kerry Trotter, WoF Content Manager: Candles and Carols, the annual Christmas pageant, was a highlight of our year at Sacred Heart School in Winnetka, Ill. Not only was it a festive showcase of cute little songbirds dressed in our uniformed best, we got to miss class for practice. And the closer we got to the big night, the more class we missed. It was glorious. Practices moved from the school basement music room to the adjacent church, the sounds of children singing about Jesus' birth filling every inch of the sacred space and infusing it with this energetic innocence, as though cherubim had been heaved in with fireplace bellows.
Then someone would throw up...
Father Steve comments on a Archbishop Timothy Dolan's article in America magazine that addresses the steady decline of Catholic School enrollment over the past 40 years.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York presents a strong advocacy for Catholic schools in America Magazine. His piece is entitled “The Catholic Schools We Need,”
and the Archbishop’s insights are well worth reading. Early in his text Dolan presents the grim statistic that enrollment in Catholic schools in the United States has steadily declined since nearly 5.2 million in the mid 1960’s to a current stat of 2.2 million. He cites the usual suspects in all this- the failure of religious orders to sustain adequate numbers of vocations, shifts in demographics (the American family continues to shrink and the Catholic family in American is no exception), rise in the cost of living (which has meant that tuition for parochial schools is higher than what many can afford), the dissolution of a distinctive Catholic culture, and finally, what Dolan wants us to understand as the linchpin in the decline- what he describes as a “loss of nerve” on the part of Catholics. Catholics, Dolan, asserts, “have for some time disowned their school system.” The reason he gives for this is “because their own children are not enrolled there or their parish does not have a school.” In other words (my words) Catholics have opted out of Catholic education...