Catholic Education

The month of November provides ample opportunity to reflect on the many gifts we have received. One of my favorite forms of prayer is to simply sit quietly and reflect on the many things in my life that I am grateful for. Most mornings it doesn’t take more than a few seconds to build a lengthy gratitude list. A contemplative practice that recognizes life as a precious gift and gives thanks to God is a wonderful start to the day.

Of the many things that make my gratitude list, one that consistently rises to the top is the gift of Catholic education. Catholic schools have had a profound impact on my life and the lives of my children. Across the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, there are extraordinary Catholic school leaders and dedicated teachers who transform the lives of young people every day.

Catholic education is essential to the evangelizing ministry of our Church. Catholic schools are tasked with providing an excellent education and charged with developing students into disciples of Jesus. We can all be thankful that such a challenging and rich mission is carried out with joy and faith across our Catholic schools.

As the superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, I have the great fortune of visiting Catholic schools across southeastern Wisconsin. So far this fall, my travels have taken me to rural parish schools surrounded by corn fields and to urban Milwaukee, where many families speak a language other than English in their homes. Despite differences in setting and demographics, our Catholic schools are united by a common mission and a love for Jesus Christ. Our Catholic schools are communities of faith, love and joy that mirror a student’s experience of family. This is a radically different experience of school compared to what is often found in our public institutions.

In September, I was able to join St. Leonard School in Muskego for a Friday morning school Mass. This liturgical celebration reflected the best practices of a Catholic school Mass where students of all ages served in a variety of liturgical roles. The most unique aspect of the Mass was not the attentive students or the supportive teachers but the engagement of school parents and families. During the Sign of Peace, parents, grandparents and other family members were encouraged to leave their pews to find their children to share a hug or kiss as a sign of their love. The sight of moms, dads and grandparents in the middle of a school day searching the church to find their little ones is a wonderful example of the unique connection that parents have with their Catholic schools. Catholic school parents are not kept at arm’s length during the learning process but are invited in as critical partners in the growth and development of each child. The students at St. Leonard School see their school Mass as an extension of their family’s expression of faith.

St. Lawrence Seminary in Mount Calvary has a unique setting and a significant challenge to engaging the families, its students and the greater community. St. Lawrence’s students live in on-campus dormitories, and a large percentage of students come to St. Lawrence from across the country or even from overseas. Rather than overlooking the parents, alumni and benefactors as too distant to connect with the school, Fr. Zoy Garibay, St. Lawrence’s Rector and President, has found ways to bring the extended community together. At the close of every Friday’s liturgy, a member of the senior class at St. Lawrence addresses the students and faculty before dismissal. The student leader reads excerpts of letters and emails containing prayer requests that have been sent to Fr. Garibay from across the wider St. Lawrence community. These messages come from alumni, parents and benefactors. Together, the students and staff pray for the letter writers and ask God to take up their intentions. This act of communal prayer unites the young men of St. Lawrence with an international community that spans thousands of miles and national borders.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak with a group of teachers at St. Josaphat Parish School in Milwaukee on a teacher in-service day. As the teachers were moving on toward their next set of meetings, I saw a group of teachers putting on coats about to head outside. I asked these teachers where they were headed, and this team of veteran teachers shared that they were off to the grocery store to buy 200 pounds of turkey. Responding to my quizzical look, the teachers shared with me the unique tradition at St. Josaphat Parish School. On the last day of school before Thanksgiving break, the teachers prepare a Thanksgiving feast of turkey and all the fixings for the entire school community. A St. Josaphat teacher explained that their students are part of the school’s family and during the holidays, we cook for our loved ones. Catholic schools have always preached that our students are united as family in faith. The staff at St. Josaphat is taking the natural next step and gathering as one large, 200-person family to celebrate all that they are thankful for.

Stories of faith and family can be found at every one of our 101 Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Central to that experience are the extraordinary educators who have answered a vocational call to serve our Catholic schools. During this holiday season, we should all be thankful for these dedicated teachers and leaders who help to form the future of our Church, one student at a time.