Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

30 January 2012

Reflections on Catholic Schools Week

The theme for this year's celebration of Catholic schools is, "Faith. Academics. Service."  The first letters of these words form fas, which is Latin for "Divine Law or command"; it can also mean "fate, destiny," and the adjective "lawful, allowed."  Catholic schools are permitted by our American Constitution (for now!); they instill the divine law in children’s hearts; and they shape their destiny as "saints in the making."  Catholic schools follow the example of the Lord Jesus who taught “with authority,” yet we may say that they teach authority: they empower young people to be faithful, intelligent, and generous forces in the world.

The eyes of all looked intently at Him (Lk 4:20b)
I approach this topic with due respect for the public school system that educated me from kindergarten through grade six.  The good teachers of Saint Clair Area Elementary and Middle Schools provided a good foundation in everything I needed to know, and my peers supplied the rest.  Early on I began to feel like a square peg in a round hole, as many kids do.  Eventually I became an object of scorn in the classroom and at recess, as many kids do.  Toward the end of sixth grade I started to ask my mom about transferring to the local Catholic elementary school, the same building where I'd been attending CCD (PREP) since our parish program merged with the others in town.  My mom relented.  She and I visited the principal, had a pleasant interview, and I showed up at St. Clair Catholic that fall.  It wasn't too long (surprise!) before one or two of the kids who had sniffed me out were making comments.  As one of seven or eight in the class, I'd gone from a 30-gallon tank into a fishbowl!

St. Clair Catholic (formerly St. Mary's) Elementary School, closed in 1991 and razed in 2011

By the grace of God I stuck with it, and I began to get along rather well with the others in the class and in our school community.  In a short time I began to speak to the teacher and to others about my interests in the priesthood.  I started attending daily Mass at St. Mary's across the street, where I would often serve funeral Masses.  (My grades didn't seem to suffer for it.)

SCC helped me to develop my musical talents.  I was drafted to play the trumpet for Nativity's Band in 7th grade, I often played the organ for school Masses in 8th grade, and I played the keyboard for the 8th grade show.

I got in trouble once for clapping erasers against the front of the building.  In 8th grade, during Catholic Schools Week, we got to assume staff roles for a day.  I was the principal.  I remember asking the school secretary to do something for me, calling her by her first name in front of some adults (after all, the principal did!).  She wasn't happy about that, I soon found out.

The idea that religion was an integral part of my school day was simply delightful.  Starting the day and many classes with a prayer, getting to submit a possible name for the Diocesan newspaper (I don't remember my choice), learning the Basic Catechism questions…when I had to do that for Confirmation in sixth grade I couldn't wait to get through it, but by this point I couldn't get enough!

Where the Schuylkill's mighty mountains / Rise toward the sky

And then there was high school…Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Pottsville (the Big City) was where I spent the best seven four years of my life!  Band, chorus, and drama--the works we attempted together, and the times we spent inside and outside of those activities--these were second only to Church for me.  I got to learn Latin, to diagram sentences, to play the Bloomsburg Fair, to analyze the battles of the Civil War, to plot the triumph of Holy Mother Church against the Heathen, to memorize Shakespeare, and to discover Frank Sinatra and Stan Kenton from a teacher who went on to spend 51 years at Nativity and who recently came back Part-Time.  (I feel compelled to remind the reader that I graduated in 1994.)

Once again the pleasantly familiar glue that held together otherwise tumultuous years--years not bereft of teasing, nor of misbehavior--was the frequent reception of Holy Communion and Confession, and the daily exposure to Catholic doctrine, worship, morality, and prayer.  Catholic school provided those opportunities, which in large part stoked the fire of my vocation to the Priesthood.  I am blessed to have met and to continue to know several fine priests who showed me, inside and outside of school, what it is like to be intelligent, compassionate, talented, pious, funny, imperfect, insightful…happy.

I still run into some of my friends and teachers from elementary and high school.  Often I make a point of it.  I have participated in or officiated at their weddings, baptized their children, (alas) helped them begin annulment proceedings, anointed and/or buried their parents.  By no means do I expect them to, but many of those people call me "Father," if only upon greeting me.  They know far too much.

Wedding Cake created by the wife of a friend since 7th grade,
for their wedding, that I witnessed

If any student I have ever taught in any way could experience a fraction of the blessings that I enjoyed; if he or she could possibly realize the love of God for and in them as I came to realize it in Catholic School; with Simeon I would say, "Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace; Your Word has been fulfilled" (Lk 2:29)

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