By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published January 24, 2008
During Catholic Schools Week, graduates of those schools throughout the Atlanta area are thanking parents for the sacrifices they endured to send their children to a Catholic school.
For many, the experience of attending an institution focused on building faith and providing quality education continues to stay with them.
“I had a great experience attending Atlanta Catholic schools that included many wonderful things,” said Eric Buergler, a 23-year-old building automation technician. “To start off, there is the top-notch education that opens the doors to good colleges. Better yet, at least from a kid’s point of view, the companionship with the other students leads to friendships throughout grade school and high school and beyond. These two things create an excellent experience that points to a successful future.”
Buergler, who attended St. John Neumann Regional School, Lilburn, and St. Pius X High School, Atlanta, continues to profess the faith that was fostered in his Catholic school experience. He currently serves as a Life Teen core member at St. Brigid Church, Alpharetta, where he helps with the faith formation of a new generation.
The feeling of nostalgia Buergler experiences is multifaceted. While important, it was not just the education or friendships that made the experience positive. He also learned from his teachers how to honestly care for others, an attribute he practices with the youth at St. Brigid.
“I will remember the teachers,” Buergler wrote in an e-mail. “All of the teachers were genuinely interested in helping you be the best you could be and seeing you succeed. They wanted to share their passions about not only the class material they were teaching you, but also their faith and hobbies.”
This positive outlook on Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Atlanta is shared by other graduates. Yvonne Noggle, a 25-year-old alumna of St. Jude the Apostle School, Atlanta, and St. Pius X, also looks backs on her experience as something that shaped and prepared her for the future.
Noggle said she feels blessed that she was able to grow up in an encouraging environment. She describes her experience as one that not only allowed her to be educated about the faith, but also to be “well-equipped to affirm the truth about our beliefs when challenged in a public setting.”
Noggle now serves the church as the program coordinator in the Office of Religious Education for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
As with Buergler, Noggle recognizes the importance of the friendships that were made and strengthened over many years.
“The friendships I have made in the Catholic schools here in Atlanta are those that will last a lifetime,” wrote Noggle in an e-mail. “Being in an environment where faith and religion are encouraged and made a focal point of everyday life fosters strong friendships with a solid foundation.”
The most significant feature of a Catholic school experience for Noggle, however, was access to the sacraments. She recalls being able to attend daily Mass or a Communion service at St. Pius X and receive the sacrament of reconciliation.
“These opportunities were instrumental for me, and for many of my peers, to help and inspire us to become closer to Christ,” she said.
The sacraments were also an important part of Catholic school to Jimmy Mitchell, a recent graduate of Marist School, Atlanta. The 22-year-old is now a senior at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and he remembers the influence his high school had on him.
“I had an incredibly positive experience at Marist,” said Mitchell in an e-mail. “Truly seeking to form well-rounded students, the education at Marist provides a great balance of intellectual, spiritual, and human formation. … With daily Mass, frequent reconciliation services and endless opportunities through retreats, Marist sought first and foremost to develop men and women of God. I am grateful for the foundations provided through their community.”
Mitchell understands the importance of Catholic schools throughout the world, not just in North Georgia. He believes that, as long as the schools “stand faithful to the magisterium, remain relevant to young people and seek always to glorify God,” they will continue to play an essential role in the development of youth.
Stephen Lenahan says he is still using the skills acquired in his Catholic education. Lenahan, who attended Our Lady of Victory School, Tyrone, in seventh and eighth grade and Our Lady of Mercy, Fairburn, for high school, is currently a catechetics/theology double major in his junior year at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.
Lenahan feels that his experience with Catholic schools in the archdiocese helped prepare him for the rigorous schedule he now has.
“I have taken what I learned inside the classroom and outside the classroom on with me to college,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Many times I have had to make decisions in my life that I know Our Lady of Mercy prepared me for. In today’s world it is very difficult to be prepared for what college will throw at you, but I believe my Catholic education has done just that—prepared me!”
Lenahan also touched on what made his years at Our Lady of Mercy memorable. He said his school embodied what the church calls a community, and that the other Atlanta Catholic schools truly foster this idea.
“I will also never forget the best cooks in the world, Ms. Mary and Ms. Gwen in the OLM cafeteria,” he added. “Please come make me food at college!”
Lenahan can relate to some of the struggles current students are dealing with, but offers them some words of wisdom.
“You may not understand now why your tie has to be straight or your shirt tucked in, but I promise one day you will be going for a job interview and it will start to make sense,” he said. “Also, stop by your school chapel as often as possible and thank God for the gift that you have been given in your education and for all the sacrifices your parents make to send you there.”
For Whitney Wolf, another graduate of Catholic schools in the Atlanta area, it was the integration of secular and religious elements that was instrumental in his spiritual growth. According to Wolf, a 24-year-old artist and painter, that element has stuck with him throughout the years.
“My favorite aspect of a Catholic school was somehow centering everything (sports, art, academics, prayer, volunteer, extracurricular) around the teachings of Christ,” he said in an e-mail. “When we study art, when we play football games, when we study, when we recycle, we do it because there was always something Christ-like in it.”
Wolf attended two schools in the Atlanta area, St. Thomas More, Decatur, and St. Pius X. He has gone on to participate in the master of theology program at the Atlanta campus of Spring Hill College.
Wolf describes his Catholic school years as very inspiring. In addition to learning more about his own faith, he was exposed to the faith of others.
“Praying before every class, and being made aware that indeed it was a Catholic school, but not every student was Catholic, really made you aware that different faiths existed,” he said. “In that way it actually seemed more diverse because I was made more aware, rather than no prayer at all, or no God at all. I learned more about Judaism, Protestantism, and other faiths in a Catholic school than I bet most would at a public school. That experience left me inspired to study theology, apologetics and a respect for all faiths.”
These students’ experiences have even pushed them to encourage parents who are considering sending their children to a Catholic school.
“Take into consideration what is the most important element you want your child to experience during their childhood and adolescence,” said Noggle. “By placing your child in a Catholic school, you are not only providing a safe environment where they will receive an excellent education, but they will also have an opportunity to build a Catholic foundation with the integration of prayer and religious instruction into their daily schedule.”
Buergler agreed. “I strongly recommend sending your children to Catholic school if it is in your means to do so. I know I will do everything in my power to give my future children the same opportunities and encourage them in much the same way my parents encouraged me,” he said.