MaryangelaLast year about this time, I was walking through a long, winding hallway at Holy Apostles School with crowds of middle school students, their coaches and parent volunteers. We were being escorted from one entrance of the New Berlin school to the area in which a forensics meet would be held. As we walked, I heard a young voice behind me say to her companion, “They couldn’t put that kind of stuff up at our school.”

We had just passed a religious statue mounted in the hallway so I’m pretty sure the “stuff” she had noticed were the religious symbols on display at Holy Apostles School.

Amused by the comment I had overheard, I was more thankful than ever that my own girls attend a school where this kind of “stuff” is not only welcomed but a visible part of every classroom and hallway. The Catholic faith and its symbols are part of every school day and are the backdrop against which all other learning takes place.

Catholic Schools Week, the annual celebration marking the successes of Catholic education, is being observed Jan. 31- Feb. 6. The theme this year is “Catholic Schools – Dividends for Life: Faith, Knowledge, Discipline, Morals.” In my experience, a Catholic education certainly does leave an indelible mark on an individual’s life. Countless times over the years, while interviewing people for Catholic Herald stories, I’ve heard anecdotes about the lasting impression of a Catholic school education.

In his first press conference after being installed archbishop of Milwaukee on Jan. 4, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki was asked about his support for Catholic education. Noting that he will be a strong supporter of Catholic schools, Archbishop Listecki responded to the question by pointing out that so many of today’s leaders, either on a local or national level, are Catholic school graduates. The newest Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor, he noted, is one such example.

Catholic schools have a long, proud tradition of excellence in our country, one which continues in spite of rising costs, a weak economy and assorted other challenges facing education today.

This issue of Catholic Herald Parenting is devoted to Catholic education. Featured are a variety of stories and columns touting successes in our archdiocesan Catholic schools. The economy has taken its toll on our schools – enrollment, at 32,544, is down 298 students from last year, but as you’ll read, the schools are responding with creative approaches either through marketing or in the classrooms.

In Nashotah, for example, St. Joan of Arc, turned to a multilevel approach to address a lower enrollment, and has found it to be a successful solution. Read about this innovative style of learning on Page 4.

Small, rural schools have been hit especially hard by the economy, but in several cases throughout our archdiocese, members of these small parishes have helped keep the schools going and have lent a hand to needy families, enabling them to continue providing a Catholic education for their children. Read this story on Page 6.

Students are not the only beneficiary of the dividends earned through Catholic schools, according to columnist Annemarie Scobey Polacheck. In her “Training Wheels” column on Page 14, she explains that the schools also have refresher lessons in faith for parents, too, sometimes providing that necessary “kick in the pants” for families. How true are her observations! Both of my children’s schools, Blessed Sacrament Elementary and Divine Savior Holy Angels High School, Milwaukee, have numerous service opportunities for the children which in turn serve as wonderful reminders for parents about the need to reach out and help others.

Annemarie writes that the schools have helped evangelize her whole family as the lessons one daughter received are spread to other family members. Again, I don’t have to think too hard to come up with similar ways that my own family is similarly touched by the lessons our daughters learn in school.

For example, we can all recite the Hail Mary and Our Father in Spanish because learning those prayers in Spanish last year was a requirement for 10-year-old Alicia and 13-year-old Chiana. As they practiced night after night, the rest of us learned right along with them.

I’m thankful for these opportunities and glad that our daughters are growing up in an environment where the Catholic faith is an integral part of the rest of their lives. Faith is not separate, something only relegated to Sunday Mass; it’s an everyday occurrence which guides the way they live their lives. And the “stuff” that hangs on the walls of the classrooms, such as the crucifixes, the bulletin board with the baptismal dates and the prayer corners in classrooms, serve to enhance their learning experiences, and help remind them that it all ties together.

Sadly for the little girl that I overheard in the hallway at Holy Apostles, the religious “stuff” is something prohibited at her school. How fortunate we Catholics are to have a wonderful school system that not only produces top academic students, but graduates for whom faith is a natural part of their lives.