A heartfelt thank you

Letters to parents are the write idea when it comes to a Catholic education

By George Valadie

Dear Mom and Dad,

How have y’all been lately? It’s been a while since we’ve gotten to talk — too long really.

I just wanted to write this short note to thank you both for the decision you made — and the sacrifices that came with it — to send me and my sisters to Catholic schools.

I don’t know what it cost back then, but 18 years of monthly payments for four kids can add up. That much I know.

I doubt you could have foreseen the sacrifices you were committing to when you first sent us off in our uniforms. Perhaps it was foolish or a little shortsighted maybe. There are plenty who would say that.

There are plenty who have said that.

How many vacations were never enjoyed, how many dinners out were never eaten, how many cars limped along, how many days was your retirement delayed again and again and again?

When money was tight and times were tough, how many arguments were argued? How many times did you reconsider the public school only 500 yards away?

Still, I prefer to believe you knew exactly what you were giving away — and why it was important that you did.

You could have never known it then — but my 62 years that followed first grade have continued to be spent in Catholic schools as well. And I’ve loved it all.

It was where I fell in love with my first-grade teacher, even though she was a nun.

It’s where I prepared for and received three different sacraments. It’s where I met my best friend, where I met the love of my life, where we sent our kids to school, and where they’re sending their kids to school.

It’s where I met teachers who not only impacted my life but shaped its eventual path. It’s where I first served at the altar, and it’s where I pondered a vocation that would keep me there.

It’s where I came to appreciate that God gave different gifts to different people — I was good at schoolwork, average at sports, and horrible at talking to girls. And I was never ever going to star on the stage.

But it’s also where we came to appreciate the gifts our friends had been given, learning to cheer their efforts, celebrate their successes, and support them when things failed to go their way.

In this most recent year, it’s where I’ve seen teachers do what many thought to be impossible, where they showed up in full force in spite of being unsure what might await them, where they took on extra tasks to keep kids and families healthy and safe.

It was you who first taught us to treat everyone well and the same. School is where we realized we really aren’t all the same, but we should treat them well anyway.

It’s where I learned about God and faith, and why I believe both of you are in heaven — getting to see the face of God every single day.

(By the way, I don’t know if you know — or are allowed to know — but things are a mess down here. When you see Him, will you please ask God to help us navigate this mess?)

I just wanted to say thanks. Your decision changed my life forever.

Hoping to see you again,
Your favorite child,
George

I wrote this during the recently celebrated Catholic Schools Week.

The idea for such an event was born in 1974 when most of our schools across the country — grade schools and high schools alike — didn’t yet engage in admissions efforts, much less development efforts.

There was little to no marketing, advertising, or public relations.

The commitment of our priests and nuns made it more affordable than not in a time before their reduced numbers increased the numbers parents had to pay.

So Catholic Schools Week became a proactive effort to reach out to those who might not know what we have to offer.

But it was also intended to be a time set aside for those inside the Catholic schools to focus on and better appreciate who we are, what we have, what we do, and the many people whose kindness and generosity make it possible.

Among all the pizza, ice cream, snow cones, and a slew of silly things we did at our school during Catholic Schools Week, I proudly watched our kids tackle two different charitable causes. It’s another piece of who we are and what we do.

And along the way I encouraged our high school students to consider if they might write a letter, note, or a text message with emojis (it would be better than nothing) to their moms and dads to say thank you for the opportunity they had been given.

I no longer have anywhere to send my note, but it didn’t feel right to ask them to write a letter to their parents without me writing one to mine.

If you’re not familiar with your local Catholic school, I invite you to go see what I’m talking about. They’ll gladly give you a tour because we’re a lot better at that sort of thing than we used to be.

And if you are a byproduct of Catholic schools, I invite you to write a letter of your own, thinking back to someone who made it possible or had an impact on your life you remember to this day.

Just don’t hold on to it too long. The days can slip on past you.

Dear God — Please bless those who labor to spread your message. May we be as good a teacher as you were. Amen.

 

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

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