By THERESE J. BORCHARD, CNS | Published January 22, 2004
Talk in my small circles suddenly has turned to education. It’s that season of our young adult lives when the organized moms generously or reluctantly pass on all of their research on the region’s public and private schools to the not-so-organized moms. Playgroup has become a safe haven where anxious moms swap notes and recommendations, rumors, horror stories and general gossip.
Although I’m always eager to eavesdrop on the report cards of various schools in the area, I never really questioned where little David would be learning his math and English.
St. Mary’s, of course, if he gets in. Because Catholic schools make a difference. Yesterday, today and tomorrow.
I speak as a product of 18 years of Catholic schooling: from first grade through graduate school; from St. Charles Borromeo to Archbishop Alter High School to St. Mary’s College to the University of Notre Dame. It doesn’t get much more Catholic than that.
I used to think my mom sent her four girls up the street to the Catholic school because she thought the school uniforms would eliminate arguments over borrowing clothes and because St. Charles was closer than the closest public school in Kettering, Ohio. Now I know she and my dad bought my childhood home because of its proximity to the parochial school.
She knew the secret of Catholic schools. She herself was taught by priests, brothers and sisters. And so was her mom. And her grandmother.
It’s difficult to explain to my non-Catholic friends why I want David to attend a Catholic school. I describe the firm structure, the religious instruction, the Judeo-Christian values that constitute the fabric of Catholic institutions.
But it’s more than that. It’s the community that never goes away, a kind of support group that has been with me long after baccalaureate Mass. It’s because of the unifying spirit exemplified in the opening and closing liturgies of the school year. It’s because of the strictness of Sister Dennis and the compassion of Sister Carol. It’s because of the whole package, the extension of the faith community of our parish.
“Eight years at St. John’s taught me the value of Catholic schools as a believing community,” writes Marianist Brother Thomas E. Oldenski in the book “Catholic School Leadership: An Invitation to Lead.” “There is no doubt in my mind that these religious women who were my teachers taught as Jesus did. They created a community spirit within the school, which was a key part of the parish community.”
This enduring sense of community, this frightening sense of accountability and blinding compassion is what kept me from straying from my faith in moments of weakness. I didn’t want to disappoint Father Mike or Mr. Trohah or Ms. Kearns. I still don’t.
Sure, you can squeeze a lesson on values into the curriculum of public schools. You can add a morality seminar into a private institution. But Catholic educators get to rely on the wisdom of a tradition that extends back 2,000 years and more. And that’s worth a lot.