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home : bishop : columns

1/25/2018 9:00:00 AM
Catholic education formed my life: part II
'Whether a child attends a Catholic school, a faith formation program, a private school, a public school or a home school, Catholic formation always involves living the life of faith 24 hours a day, with Jesus as its center, and Catholic families can and must ensure this as their primary mission.'

(Editor's note: This is the second of two columns by Bishop Scharfenberger on Catholic education in celebration of national Catholic Schools Week, which is being celebrated Jan. 28-Feb. 3. Part I appeared in the Jan. 18 issue.)

"To be in Christ means being a completely new creature. Everything of the old is gone, now everything is made anew" (2 Cor 5:17).

Formal Catholic schooling was unquestionably a key factor in my Catholic formation and the development of my priestly vocation.

Unfortunately, most Catholics, I would say, have not received their faith formation by attending a Catholic school. Alternatively, they might well have had access to solid faith formation programs at their parish, or perhaps through home-schooling networks. However, all truly Catholic education involves much more than a program or even schooling, whatever model it may follow.

Catholic schooling, in every model or structure, seeks to form the whole person and to include every disciple, as well as those who wish to enter our learning environment because they are attracted by the faith we profess in action, or the values and standards that we live by.

The Catholic-school mission flows naturally from the nature of our faith. Historically, this "catholic" or universally-oriented foundation of our faith was reflected in a Catholic-school system that developed in this immigrant country of ours.

From its earliest days, American Catholic education embraced those on the margins, those without inherited economic or social status -- and formed not only good Christians, but outstanding American citizens with respect for our Constitution, our laws and our work ethic, not to mention people of good moral character and fair-mindedness.

We can quibble about the occasional cranky teacher. Yet, there are few organizations that would consider being a Catholic-school graduate as a disqualifying factor for membership or employment. On the contrary, Catholic schools are rightly renowned for their role in supplementing and reinforcing the work of good parenting in forming mature and responsible human beings and lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ.

Speaking of parenting, though parents and Catholic school leaders might not always see eye to eye, a sound relationship between home and school has always been a hallmark of good Catholic education.

Good Catholic education means much more than what happens between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Sound learning requires much more than good school administration, technology and technique.

Technology clearly opens vistas for learning, with so much to engage the whole student. Nothing, however, reinforces school and online learning better than strong family bonds, and nothing can take its place.

Whether a child attends a Catholic school, a faith formation program, a private school, a public school or a home school, Catholic formation always involves living the life of faith 24 hours a day, with Jesus as its center, and Catholic families can and must ensure this as their primary mission.

Everyone knows that teachers in Catholic schools -- and catechists who work in similar settings -- are on a mission that is never confined to the clock or the classroom. My siblings and I saw the esteem of our parents for our teachers, who were much more their collaborators than mere school employees.

Our parents themselves embodied the mission as our primary teachers through who they were and what they taught, supervising our homework and involving us in the activities of school, church and community. These included many extracurricular activities, not the least of which was participation at Mass every Sunday, and numerous devotional and social events at our parish.

All of this harmonized as a solid message of how faith, family and learning were profoundly integrated as a way of living: a holistic and "catholic" way of life that involved the whole person, body, mind and soul. We may not have had eBoards (online bulletin boards) or email then, but nothing got sent home in our schoolbags that our parents missed -- or didn't hear of from other parents.

We were far from perfect. Our parents and teachers, just like us students, had their faults. We sometimes joked about the "Catholics" and the "publics," aware that we felt a little different because we went to Catholic school.

To some extent, the uniform was part of it, and part of our school identity. But, when it came off at 3 p.m., we were never taught that we became another person -- the "real person" behind the uniform. In or out of uniform, the "real person" was a disciple of Jesus.

Were it any different, then or now, merely attending a Catholic school would not meet the goal of that education: knowing and loving Jesus Christ, and living that life day in and day out -- for life, not just till diploma time.

I have no doubt many Catholic families whose children did not attend Catholic schools share memories similar to mine. We said prayers before meals, before bed and on rising, and we were taught that, at home, our words and actions reflected who we really were at all times: children made in the image and likeness of God.

We went to confession about once a month (not just with the class); and, when we went, usually on Saturday afternoons, one of our parents often came with us and confessed themselves.

There was no separation between a "Catholic-school" and an "after-school" way of acting. "Church" was not just something you did in school, and "religion" was more than a subject you took -- whether in Catholic school or CCD (religious education). Being educated "Catholic" was all about who you are and remain as the real person you are, always: at school, at home, at work or at play.

For me, this would never change. It is who I am, and who I must continue, with the help of God, to become.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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