“When is our class going to sign the Book of the Remembrance?” asked my first period of sixth-grade students. It was now several days after All Souls Day, and they were concerned I had forgotten our plan to pray for loved ones who had passed away. “Friday,” I answered, “so that we are not interrupting morning Mass at the cathedral and will have more of an opportunity to pray.” Their nods of approval showed they both understood the delay and would not be forgetting the new plan.
The middle school teachers had initially considered bringing empty pages from the church for students to write in, forming our own Book of Remembrance. This would have saved time in class to be sure, yet it would not have created the space of prayer and community we desired.
While it often seems that we merely share sacred spaces with the parish across the parking lot, the relationship between parish and school is ordered toward something far deeper and more enriching. Sacred Heart Cathedral School students belong to Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish as reciprocal and mutual parts of our community—each a part of the Body of Christ.
Building and living in community is central to the mission of Catholic education. Catholic schools actively participate in the Body of Christ in the classroom by forming students academically and spiritually—caring for the whole person in the formation of character and faith. Yet, the work of the Catholic school is to extend learning beyond our classrooms into our sacred spaces and the outside world. With the help of the parish, our schools are fed in the beauty of Tradition, and provide additional witnesses to living the faith for our students.
No Catholic school can adequately fulfill its educational role on its own. It must continually be fed and stimulated by its Source of life, the Saving Word of Christ as it is expressed in Sacred Scripture, in Tradition, especially liturgical and sacramental tradition, and in the lives of people, past and present, who bear witness to that Word. (The Catholic School, 54)
What are practical ways to connect the classroom and the parish? To remind students that they, too, are part of the Body of Christ?
Attending Mass at the parish is the most common way we engage in parish life throughout the week. As a former Catholic school student and current teacher, I am grateful for the physical space to worship. Worshipping in sacred spaces transitions students from the routine of the classroom to prayer by directing their focus toward God in the church. In addition to praying for the community during the Mass, praying in the church throughout the year enables the connection between classroom and parish to grow. Invite your students to pray for the parish community regularly, and pray with them whenever possible.
Serving the Parish is Serving the School
Engage in small acts of service for the parish. Teaching students to help serve the parish community solidifies the connection between parish and school. This service does not need to be flashy. This past fall, our 7th and 8th graders picked weeds for the Cathedral during the school day. The simple task met the Cathedral’s need and taught the students that serving our parish is serving our school.
Extend An Invitation
Our parishes and schools often operate as two separate communities. Extending an invitation is one step in bridging the gap. The parish is filled with a multitude of lived experiences and skills. Inviting parishioners to join students in school prayer experiences, service opportunities, and events extends communal engagement to bring the two together.
In his 1979 address to the National Catholic Education Association, Pope St. John Paul II summarized Catholic education’s purpose as “above all a question of communicating Christ, of helping to form Christ in the lives of others.” With the help of our parish community, my sixth grade students knew Christ a little more that Friday morning. The prayer intentions our students wrote in the Book of Remembrance became the intentions of the whole parish, offered during each celebration of the Mass. In turn, we, as active members of the parish community, continue to lift up the parish’s intentions in our classrooms. When we take time for prayer and service, our parishes and classrooms are part of the Body of Christ, communicating Christ to one another.
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Featured image: Sacred Heart Cathedral (Knoxville, TN) by Nheyob; CC-BY-SA-4.0.