Dominican High School gave me just the nudge I needed this past fall. Actually, it was a little more like a kick in the pants. I went to the parent association meeting in November and one of the topics covered was Dominican’s responsibility to make and serve the food at the St. Ben’s meal program the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Our family was going to spend Thanksgiving at my sister’s in Cincinnati and I knew we wouldn’t arrive home until Sunday, so I mentally excused us from helping out at St. Ben’s. As the campus minister, Henry Reyes, got up to speak, I had already crossed St. Ben’s off in my mind with a “too busy” notation.
“Dominican always has the fifth Sunday of the month at St. Ben’s,” Henry said as I scanned the agenda for what was coming next. “And this often coincides with a holiday. Some people think this is too bad, because it makes it inconvenient for families to help out – we’re all so busy at the holidays. But I welcome the fifth Sunday because it forces us to rearrange our schedule and reorganize our priorities. Service isn’t something we do if we have the time for it. Service is what we make time for.”
I snapped to attention. Henry was right, of course. We weren’t the only family with a good excuse not to serve. Every family had one.
Thanks to Henry, we left Cincinnati on Saturday evening instead of Sunday morning as we had planned. The kids were so good in the car that we drove straight through with only a bathroom stop. We had a full day in Milwaukee to reorient from the trip and a meaningful night serving at St. Ben’s with the kids. It was actually a less-hectic way to return home than we had planned.
One of the most surprising gifts of choosing Catholic education for our children has been that education’s effect on Bill and me. When we chose a Catholic grade school for 4-year-old Jacob, 11 years ago, we did so with the understanding that it would help form Jacob’s faith experience, but we didn’t understand that it would deepen our own faith as well.
Just as practicing geography with Jacob has helped me remember the countries in South America, so has coming in contact with the kids’ religion lessons and prayer experiences reacquainted me with aspects of my faith that might have otherwise faded.
The other day in the van on the way to school, Liam was listing the Ten Commandments out loud to prepare for a religion test. I listened as he did so, trying occasionally to beat him to the punch. It occurred to me, as Liam intoned, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods,” that if we had not chosen a Catholic school for our kids, no one would be reminding me not to covet on a random Tuesday. And considering that a few minutes after dropping off the kids, I’d be in a work meeting with my co-worker with the fabulous boots and handbag, I could definitely use that 10th commandment reminder.
The faith that permeates my children in their Catholic schools seeps into their skin and souls and fills our home. It joins with what Bill and I teach them; it enhances what they take from church. And then it spills over to challenge me. Once, when T did something wrong and was sent to her room as a consequence, Liam came down and quietly told me she was up there saying the rosary out loud. Do I say the rosary when I’m angry or troubled? Not usually, so she didn’t get that from me. Saying the rosary in school moved T to take action at home; and that, in turn, was witnessed by Liam, who reported it to me. My second-grader was evangelizing within her own family, just by her example.
Perhaps more than specific prayers or religion units, what St. Monica School and Dominican have given Bill and me is a culture of approaching life always through the lens of faith. Because we both work in secular settings, discussion of faith is not part of our day-to-day work life. Belonging to school communities where every meeting begins with prayer, where every handout has some reference to an aspect of church or faith, where the very mission and reason for existence of the institution is based on Christ, helps us orientate ourselves.
The world swirls around us with promises, values and reasons for living that are often at odds with what we know to be true. Catholic schools have helped us, as a couple, to better hold onto that truth – and to pass that truth on to our children.
This Catholic Schools Week, I give thanks not only for what Catholic schools have taught my children, but for what they have given to Bill and me. A whisper. A nudge. A kick in the pants. I am so grateful.
(Scobey-Polacheck, her husband Bill and their children belong to St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Milwaukee and St. Monica Parish, Whitefish Bay. Her book, “Discovering Motherhood,” a compilation of her columns, is available at local bookstores or at www.discoveringmotherhood.com.)