Praying for perspective: Catholic schools—they’re worth it

A week spent celebrating them annually isn’t enough time to thank everyone involved, but it does get the message out

By George Valadie

For the most people around the country, the first Friday in February coming up will bring to conclusion another Catholic Schools Week celebration.

Over the last 30-plus years, we in Catholic education have finally come to understand the need to find and use our best public relations people. Their task has been straightforward — let’s toot our own horn, which is something that, to be honest, we didn’t do very well in our earliest days.

To be even more honest, it took us way too long to realize we even needed public relations people.

But we’ve moved forward in so many ways. So, in 1974, the National Catholic Education Association and its 6,400-member schools created this weeklong celebration of our heritage, our success, and our future. The week has evolved into a focused opportunity to talk about who and what we are — to any who will listen.

This happens on a national scale. It happens in parish pulpits. And it happens inside all of our schools.

And for every Catholic school principal like me, it’s a celebration in every sense of the word.

That last Friday, I mean, when it’s over. It’s a long week. But it’s worth it.

It can be a tough week, too, if you want to know the truth. Some days it’s hard enough to get our kids to engage with the famous but dead in our history. It’s harder still to get them fired up about the life of one St. John Neumann, much less understand how what he did way back then has anything at all to do with why they’re here today.

But it’s worth it.

And then there are our thousands of teachers who deserve their day in the sun. We don’t appreciate them enough. We don’t pay them enough. We don’t insure them enough.

Not intentionally mind you, but we treat them a lot like the Catholic school boiler out back. We ask them to go and go and go and …

So we try to make up for some of that with an annual “you-don’t-have-to-eat-with-the-kids-today” luncheon.

That’s not enough either. But they’re worth it.

Somewhere in the week we always plan a special liturgy that needs some significant student rehearsal time (because we want everyone else who attends to think it all comes so naturally).

We also would like to think that our young people get excited about every Mass they attend, but they don’t.

So, every once in a while we do it differently, we do it better. And sometimes it requires that our kids miss some class to prepare for it.

Ironically, the “I-need-to-take-some-kids-out-of-their-classroom-thing” is embedded in the same week in which we tell people how well they’re doing inside the classroom — well, when they’re in there.

I know, I know … it’s Catholic school logic. But those liturgies? They’re always worth it.

And then there are those days where we say thanks to the people who help make us go: the pastors, the parents, the grandparents, the crossing guards, the cafeteria cooks, the public officials, the benefactors, and just about anybody who finds a way to demonstrate their love for kids and Catholic schools. However, we could never really thank them all.

Of course, to thank and honor those fine people, you have to invite them. And then you have to worry about how the kids will behave in front of them.

We’re thankful people — yet realistic. Still, it’s worth it.

Amid all the celebrating, praying, and eating (lots of eating), we also have learned how critically important it is to emphasize how we might serve the many on our planet who need us.

We will have hardly gotten them settled down from the Christmas chaos, still I’m glad we celebrate in January so when we talk about the homeless who will need their help, students can imagine what life in the cold might feel like.

It seems like a long week, but it will never be long enough to fully discuss how the poor and the hungry need the kindness of those who aren’t. Or how the sick and the dying need the same.

But it’s worth it

The celebration would be so much greater if I could also tell you that attending Catholic schools is free. But it’s not. Among other factors, the religious who made that possible in days of yore aren’t nearly as numerous. That changed a budget or two.

Our schools are about sacrificing and choosing; they’re about vacations that don’t happen, and daily Mass that does; they’re about new clothes that don’t get bought, and uniforms that do; they’re about having to retire later, and borrow sooner. They’re about God!

And they’re worth it.

Dear God — Doing all that you need done takes a lot of people. And often we get in each other’s way. But it’s worth it. Please bless them all. Amen.

George Valadie is the president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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