By MSGR. DAN STACK, Special to the Bulletin | Published March 23, 2017
ALPHARETTA—Catholic and non-Catholic students, teachers and administrators began Lent March 1 at Cambridge and Milton High Schools in north Fulton County with a liturgy of the word and the imposition of ashes led by members of the youth leadership team from St. Thomas Aquinas Church. For the second year in a row student ministers prepared and led these brief Ash Wednesday services at their schools where anyone who wished could participate and mark the beginning of Lent with this ancient sign of penance.
Cindy Caughman, youth minister at St. Thomas Aquinas, helped numerous students, including Jake Paris, Emily Breyen, Leslie Fox, Angelica Madrid, Christina Fortwengler and Calvin Trainum, to lead these services. The student ministers announced the services by word of mouth, social media and announcements at church.
Mimi Madrid, who has a student at Cambridge and helps with the St. Thomas Aquinas high school program, was delighted that the participation at Cambridge has increased. She said, “Ash Wednesday was filled with joy for me, as I witnessed a beautiful moment with our youth at Cambridge High School. Students, teachers, administrators and parents all sharing in our faith and coming together to worship was a wonderful event to begin our Lenten season.”
Only some 5 percent of our school-age children attend a Catholic school. Of our 54 current seminarians, only six are products of Catholic schools. About 25 percent of Milton High School students are on the rolls of St. Thomas Aquinas, which has some 1,500 high school age students. Of that number, only 50 students, about 3 percent, attend Catholic high schools. This fact demands that we engage our public schools. We have an obligation to minister to all of our children.
Contrary to what many think, public schools are not opposed to God or religion, but Catholic religious formation is not their mission. They will provide space and time for religious activities led by students who respond to the expressed interests of other students, but it must be at the initiative of students. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an evangelical Christian catechetical model has been well engaged in public schools for decades. St. Thomas Aquinas Church has taken advantage of the openness of its nearby public schools to begin envisioning more groups whose activities can take place on public school campuses. For example, students could meet for prayer and breakfast on any given morning.
Ash Wednesday is a good first step. We hope there will be many more steps to follow.
Msgr. Dan Stack is the pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Alpharetta.