A lifetime in Catholic schools ‘has rubbed off on our girls’
By George Valadie
We’ve just finished celebrating Catholic Schools Week, us and the rest of the nation. It was a much-needed idea born in the mid-’70s, the same time I stepped into my first classroom as a Catholic school teacher.
Though that first day wasn’t all that much to celebrate as I remember. I vividly recall standing there at the door, fumbling with my keys and a lock I couldn’t unlock. To my huge embarrassment, a senior girl walked past and offered to show me how it worked. While handing her my keys, I dropped everything else.
Imagining the laughter and all she was telling her friends about the new guy, my career was off and running. I’ve gotten better.
We use Catholic Schools Week to celebrate our heritage, acknowledge our successes, and give thanks to the many who make it all possible.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably on that list. If you’ve ever prayed for us, you definitely are. So thank you!
Today, I’m in the middle of my 60th year being associated with Catholic schools—16 as a student, the rest as a teacher or administrator. All of it a privilege.
Given its 400 years of history in America, I’m pretty sure the institution would be exactly the same without my having been a part.
I, however, would not. It’s not exactly who I am, but it’s a big ol’ chunk of it.
I’ve loved most every minute. It’s certainly not perfect; we can always improve. Too often we forget that even though our Church was founded by perfection, it didn’t necessarily carry over to all its workers. At least not as much as we would have liked.
But the good has far outweighed the bad.
And I’m happy to say that my own affection has rubbed off on our girls. Our two daughters with children of their own now have them enrolled in their local Catholic grade schools as well.
There are uniforms, Mass Day, religion class, and all the rest. And I get the biggest kick when Brady, the second-grader, who makes his first Communion in May, calls from Houston to ask me a religion homework question because he’s not convinced his mom really knows the answer.
I should tell you that all three of our daughters enjoyed the opportunity—at least for part of their schooling—to attend the same school where their dad worked. Or should I say that I enjoyed that opportunity.
No doubt there were quite a few days when each considered it nothing more than a burden they were forced to bear. They were probably right.
Katy, Brady’s mom, got to have 12 of her own years in Catholic schools. Once married and out on her own, she told me of a conversation she had one “girls night out” a year or so before Brady was even born.
Somehow, in and between the margaritas, the ladies in her group had taken to discussing the relative merits of sending their as-yet-to-be-born children to Catholic schools.
While debating the pros and cons of tuition and discipline and God, Katy told me she had taken up the mantle of supporting my life’s work, holding aloft the banner of Catholic schools and all they can do . . . and all they actually do.
When she told me about it, I was the beaming father.
“I’m proud of you, girl. What all did you tell them? Tell me what you said?”
“Well, Dad, I couldn’t give them too many facts or anything really important. But I did tell them you’d been doing it all your life. And I thought you were smart enough that you wouldn’t have wasted all that time if it wasn’t a really good thing.”
That’s a start.
“Come on now, what did you really tell them?”
“That really is what I told them. But I found myself arguing not so much from a facts-and-figures point of view, because you’ve never really taught us much of that stuff.”
But then she lit up my day.
“Rather I found myself arguing more from an emotional point of view. I couldn’t always find the words, but all I knew was that what we got to have as kids—I told them that’s what I want for my kids.”
And that right there—that feeling that somehow had wrapped itself around her heart—that is why the nation celebrates such a thing as “Catholic Schools Week.”
Let me say that in spite of the time she got to (or had to) spend with me, I never taught Katy. I never sponsored one of her activities. In actuality, she spent very little time with me while at school.
These feelings that she had and continues to have about Catholic schools are not because of her dad.
I’ve long believed that one of the true beauties of our schools is that our students can almost always find somebody to be there for them. Most of the time, naturally, that proves to be some special teacher—and not always one of theirs. So many are so good at it. But many times it’s not.
More times than you can imagine, I’ve caught a glimpse of students in meaningful conversation with someone from the kitchen, custodial, or security staffs. Might be a coach, maybe a counselor, everyone cares, no one’s off duty.
From first grade through 12th, they are the reasons Katy feels what she feels.
So I offer a heartfelt thanks to all of you—from Katy’s dad.
Dear God – It’s a pretty good thing we’ve got going. Please help us figure out how more can get to come. That would make it better. Amen.
George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.