There are certain moments in our lives that would be considered transformative. The high school years would rank high on the list of those moments. To think that many of us entered as frightened freshman and graduate four years later as confident seniors ready to address the challenges of the world.
Whenever I gather with old friends, inevitably the high school years become a topic of reflection. It was often during those high school years that we occupied positions of leadership. It was during those years that we were challenged with the responsibility to contribute to the larger community, and offer public and charitable service. It was during those years that we were directed to choose a life direction. My personal experience of high school was in a minor seminary. But I can testify that even those who decided that priesthood was not their vocation, they still reserve a special place for those high school years and for their fellow students who shared their experience.
In the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, we are proud to have 16 Catholic high schools: Catholic Central in Burlington, Catholic Memorial in Waukesha, Chesterton Academy of Milwaukee in Menomonee Falls, Dominican in Whitefish Bay, St. Catherine’s in Racine, St. Joseph Catholic Academy in Kenosha, St. Lawrence Seminary in Mt. Calvary, St. Mary’s Springs in Fond du Lac, and the following high schools in Milwaukee: Cristo Rey Jesuit, Divine Savior Holy Angels, Marquette, Messmer, Pius XI, St. Anthony, St. Joan Antida and St. Thomas More. These high schools offer solid academic programs, building the total person grounded in faith formation. The religious activities engage the students and challenge them to live fully the Gospel of our Lord.
There is no doubt tremendous sacrifices are made by families to send their sons and daughters to a Catholic high school. I admire their efforts and I would hope that our families see this as an investment in their child’s future, establishing a solid grounding that places them on the road to be responsible citizens as well as people who embrace and practice their faith. As important as success in the professional or business world may be, success in the spiritual life is everything. There are high positions in life which are achieved by many of the graduates of our Catholic high schools. They become leaders in their professions, teachers and business managers, religious sisters and priests; but a relationship with Christ and his Church is the ultimate achievement because this is the road to holiness, which points our way to salvation.
One of the aspects of a Catholic high school education is that it creates a supportive environment often shared by others. These fellow students become friends and act as supports for the rightness of actions. We need to be affirmed and our peers can at times offer that affirmation. We understand that we do not walk alone through life nor confront social problems in a vacuum. It is a Catholic identity that forms the foundation for the direction and actions that we take. A faith-filled high school environment offers a number of examples of the appropriate course of action or the manner in which someone should approach a problem. There is always a consideration of the teachings of Jesus in our relationships with others.
The administrators, teachers and staff of a Catholic high school understand they represent more than an institution. They are examples and even models of the faith for the students who view them as individuals who have achieved a level of success and integrated faith into their lives. A Catholic identity forms the teachers and administrators who become great mentors for the students. I had the privilege of being a Catholic high school teacher. I watched the growth and development of the students. They constantly amazed me in their energy and willingness to serve.
The Catholic high school community is a giving community, and students always seemed to surprise by exceeding any expectations. They support charities, both domestically and internationally. Many will travel on mission trips to experience cultures outside the United States and come back with a deep sense of gratitude for the benefits they enjoy in our country. This universal responsibility is rooted in the Catholic Church, which is present in every corner of the world. They take responsibility for the Gospel and realize that as followers of Christ, his love is to be shared by our brothers and sisters, both home and abroad.
There is a certain freedom that is celebrated in Catholic high schools. You can talk about God, you can pray. Many of the Catholic high schools have chapels where students are encouraged to develop their personal relationship with the Lord. However, in the educational environment of a public school, a student will not be allowed to profess their faith or offer their discussions about religious topics. The very first freedom in the “Bill of Rights” is freedom of religion. It is important to exercise our freedoms, and the Catholic school community embraces the rights we enjoy as Americans. Our Founding Fathers knew the exercise of religion establishes that there is an authority of which we must be mindful, and this authority guides and directs our lives.
If I were a parent, knowing the challenges of our current culture, I would want my child to be surrounded by those of faith in order for them to shape the decisions they must make in our world. I would want my son or daughter to experience a community that cared about their whole person. I would want them to be formed as a caring and giving person. I would want them to understand that God loves them so that they in turn might Love One Another.
I know that our Catholic high schools form our students academically, socially and spiritually. It’s worth this investment, which benefits our students and assists us in fulfilling our mission entrusted to us by Jesus as his Church, “to preach, teach and baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”