The task of the Catholic school is to teach its students to behold reality, to make sense of what they encounter around and within them. Beyond simply presenting the breadth and depth of human knowledge to its students, it must preach the Gospel, integrating that human knowledge into an authentically Christian worldview and forming its students to be disciples of Jesus. The result ought to be “a synthesis of culture and faith, and a synthesis of faith and life” (The Catholic School, §37).
“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.
Well, here we are, still in the middle of a pandemic, and next week, it will be Catholic Schools Week once again. Has this week always just been a random excuse to enliven things in the schoolhouse at the peak of winter? For those engaged in remote learning, what might this year’s celebration mean minus the ice cream at lunch, dress down days, contests, and assemblies? Is a week like this destined to miss the mark in a pandemic year? Or, is there something more?
My students often find Christ in unexpected ways. One was invited to wash the feet of a homeless woman. During this interaction, she was asked to cut the woman’s toenails. In the process of doing so, the toenail flung away from the foot and ricocheted off of my student’s head. They both laughed in a moment of communal humility and joy. In relating this incident, she wrote, “I bet this never happened to Jesus.”
Such #neverhappenedtoJesus moments help us think creatively about Pope Francis’ challenge to create homes in our institutions. “A home, as we all know, demands that everyone work together. No one can be indifferent or stand apart, since each is a stone needed to build the home. This also involves asking the Lord to grant us the grace to learn how to be patient, to forgive one another, to start over each day” (Christus Vivit, §217).
This Catholic Schools Week, we have so much to be proud of when we look at the ways Catholic schools help students grow in faith, knowledge, service, and leadership. My hope for Catholic schools is that we can also use our unique position and mission to impact the adults who work for us. For me, one of the most valuable parts of working at a Catholic school is that I can grow in faith along with my students and build a faith community with other adults.