(Excerpt from The Catholic Servant, Vol. XXV, No. IX, September 2019):
Appreciating the Gift of a Faithfully Catholic School
By Dr. Rachel Lu
[…] If no decent school were available, I would find a way to homeschool. I care about my kids’ education. From the time our first son was born, though, what I really wanted was a school that could provide a high-quality education for our children, within a faithfully Catholic community. Saint Agnes Catholic School has fit that description very well. My eldest three boys are all current students there; our fourth will reach kindergarten next year.
Saint Agnes has contributed immeasurably to the life of our family. It’s such a blessing to be immersed in a community that values our Catholic faith the way we do. Liturgical seasons, feast days, and Saint [Feast] Days are observed at school as well as at home. The kids come home bearing seasonally-appropriate crafts and singing seasonal songs. In the fall, the whole family looks forward to attending the Homecoming game. In the spring, the boys eagerly anticipate their annual celebration of an ancient culture (from 1st-3rd grade, they study ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and finally ancient Rome), along with the school musical, and the Holy Week Passion Play. Catholic Schools Week is always an exciting time, and in winter the Mini Matmen wrestling camp provides an outlet for surplus energy. All of these events have become part of the regular rhythm of our family life.
School Masses at Saint Agnes are beautiful and celebrated with great reverence. There are no tambourines or guitar bands. Children are taught to see Mass as worship, not an opportunity to perform. My husband and I stress good Mass behavior from an early age, but I’ve still found that each child’s Mass behavior improves after starting school. This seems to be a case in which peer pressure is actually good.
For me as a convert, it’s amazing to watch my children’s sensibilities being shaped within a Catholic world. They see the world through lenses that I have never possessed. To them, nuns in habit are not a head-turning oddity, but a natural part of day-to-day life. Why wouldn’t icons, crucifixes, and Marian statues be present in normal places of business? Few things could be more precious than helping your kids rehearse for a “virtue assembly,” or having your seven-year-old climb into the back seat announcing casually that “Father told us at Mass today that we’re never too young for holiness.”
These beautiful details point toward something larger. The best thing about Catholic school is the way that it forms children’s expectations of community life, within a Catholic context. It would be possible to achieve this good in other ways, through sustained involvement in parish life, or through immersion in an extended Catholic family. The fact remains, though, that robust, family-oriented Catholic communities are in short supply nowadays. We can’t afford to take them for granted. If we want to reach young Catholics while their sensibilities are still being formed, a school is the obvious answer.
Education is a thorny topic among Catholic parents, for good reasons. Financially, Catholic school isn’t always feasible for single-income families, and in our time, many people are understandably wary of institutions. I have great respect for parents who make the necessary sacrifices to homeschool, and I have no doubt many are doing well by their children. Each summer, when the kids are at home, I reflect on some of the positives of having a unique family life, ordered almost entirely around our own needs and interests. I do understand the appeal. It can be beautiful to hold your children close to your heart for awhile, cherishing their youth while it still lasts.
All things have their proper season, however. In considering our educational options, we shouldn’t lose sight of the tremendous resource that a school can represent, for our children, as well as their families and communities. When circumstances permit, we should feel proud and grateful to participate in a faithfully Catholic school. If we care for them properly, these institutions can be a resource for future generations as well.
I’m always relieved when autumn rolls around, opening a few precious hours each day when I can accomplish adult tasks. Raising a family is hard work, and it’s a relief to accept a bit of help. That relief, though, is a trivial thing compared to the immense gratitude I feel for a faithfully Catholic community, where teachers and other parents are supportive of my efforts to raise boys into honorable Catholic men. It takes a parish to raise a child. It helps to have a parish family.
Dr. Rachel Lu is a Catholic convert who earned her Ph.D. in philosophy from Cornell University. She and her husband, Matthew, have five children and live in St. Paul.