Column by Jonathan Nagy
As I began thinking about what I wanted to focus my article on this month, I knew I wanted to write about Catholic Schools. I feel for as much as I talk about Catholic education, I have exhausted all possible angles for explaining its importance. Suddenly, an idea it me. What would the world be like without Catholic education? I quickly typed that on my computer and then sat and stared at it. I opened my laptop every day for a week and stared at that sentence as it stared back at me. I was unable to think of anything to write and did not even know where to begin or if I could even come up with something. That blank page became my answer!
You see, without Catholic education, there would be a huge void in the world. The world ‘void’ has so much more meaning than ‘nothing.’ Webster’s Dictionary defines nothing as “something that does not exist.” That definition fits the word and is understandable but does not begin to describe a world without Catholic education. The Dictionary definition of void more fully expresses the sentiment. The Dictionary reads, “containing nothing, a feeling of want or hollowness.” That is what was staring back at me from my computer, hollowness. A completely unfilled space lacking in just about everything. That is the world without Catholic education.
Catholic schools have done so much for individuals over the years. The earliest schools in America were founded in churches, many in Catholic churches. Throughout the centuries, Catholic schools have remained strong and have continued to grow in several areas of the world. The number of students in Catholic education throughout the world has doubled in the last 40 years to reach 62 million, with an additional 6.5 million in Catholic colleges and universities. In many areas of the country and the world, Catholic schools have enrollment waiting lists. Many recognize the importance of Catholic schools and want to see students in those schools thrive.
The Second Vatican Council’s document on Catholic education, Gravissimum Educationis, expanded on Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28:20 where he said, “Go and proclaim the Gospel to all nations.” The document stated, “To fulfill the mandate she has received from her divine founder of proclaiming the mystery of salvation to all men and of restoring all things in Christ, Holy Mother the Church must be concerned with the whole of man’s life, even the secular part of it insofar as it has a bearing on his heavenly calling. Therefore, she has a role in the progress and development of education.” With this document, the Church made it clear that Catholic education is ESSENTIAL in the development of individuals and their salvation!
Archbishop J. Michael Miller, C.S.B, current Archbishop of the Diocese of Vancouver, wrote a book entitled The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools. In that book, he identified five benchmarks of Catholic Schools:
1. Inspired by a Supernatural Vision
2. Founded on a Christian Anthropology
3. Animated by Communion and Community
4. Imbued with a Catholic Worldview throughout its Curriculum
5. Sustained by Gospel Witness
Good Catholic schools meet all of these benchmarks! We strive to help our students become good citizens of the world and put them on a path towards sainthood. We seek to help students understand the nature of humanity. The focus of community and communion with the Church and the world is vital. Catholicism should be evident throughout the curriculum, no matter the subject area. School leaders and teachers must demonstrate Christian attitudes and behaviors so that students may model them and grow.
All of those qualities are in addition to exceptional curricula with diverse techniques to reach every student. I have been in Catholic education for 30 of my 38 years on earth. I can’t imagine what an education is like without those benchmarks. To me, that would be a gigantic void! Those marks are absolutely needed for a full education, not only in my life, but in the lives of so many others.
Even for those individuals who have not experienced Catholic education for themselves, they are recipients of its impact. In our own Diocese, parishioners benefit from having several dozen of the active priests themselves attend Catholic schools, including Bishop Carroll’s own Monsignor David Lockard, Monsignor Stanley Carson, Father James Dugan, Father John Byrnes, and Father Brian Saylor. These fine priests credit much of their spiritual development to their time in Catholic education.
Nationally, Catholic schools boast a 99% on-time graduation rate. The majority of the members of our Supreme Court are Catholic, as well as one third of the US Senators and one fourth of the members of the House of Representatives. Many well-
known celebrities, athletes, and entertainers have also graced the halls of Catholic schools and credit much in their lives to the strong foundations they received at those schools.
Again, even those who did not attend Catholic school see the value in the education. Former President George W. Bush, who did not attend Catholic school, once commented, “Catholic schools carry out a great mission, to serve God by building knowledge and character. By teaching the word of God, you prepare your students to follow a path of virtue.” I agree wholeheartedly with President Bush. Graduates of Catholic schools have been led down the path of virtue. The path of virtue is, to paraphrase Robert Frost, the road less traveled. The path is difficult, but the reward is awesome. Catholic schools prepare individuals to take that less traveled path towards a moral, virtuous life with eternal rewards.
I saw a t-shirt recently with the words, “You can’t scare me. I was taught by nuns.” While the intention of the shirt is to be funny because of the way teacher-nuns are portrayed in popular culture, I look at the saying as a badge of honor. Nuns, priests, and lay people from whom I have had the privilege to learn have taught me values that guide my life and the lives of so many others. I am proud to have been taught by nuns, and the sentiment on the shirt is correct. The ways and temptations of the evil one are less effective on those who have built up a shield of faithful love and adoration of God. Nothing can pierce that armor, and Catholic educators help suit up students to fight the battle.
There is so much good being done in our Catholic schools that benefit people now and will in the future. Catholic school students are some of the most generous individuals, giving of time, talent, and treasure to so many worthy causes and those less fortunate. These future leaders think not of reward for themselves but focus on how their gifts can help others.
I’ve been questioned many times why I have stayed in Catholic education so long. My answer is simple. I’m here, first and foremost, because of the students. I see extraordinary individuals with so much potential. The ability to educate them within a Christian framework is truly satisfying, as I feel I am able to instruct the whole person, spirit, heart, mind, and body. Someone once asked of me, “Don’t you feel constrained teaching in a Catholic school?” I said, “On the contrary, I feel free!”
Education without faith, values, and morals is simply like the picture of my computer screen – an empty void. The world creates for all a hunger that only the love of Jesus Christ can satisfy. That love is truly present in each Catholic school. Life situations can leave us feeling empty. I propose that if one truly embraces everything that a Catholic education has to offer, they will feel so full that they cannot help but share that feeling with others. It only takes a spark to start a fire, and I pray that the fire of Catholic education burns eternally.
This Catholic Schools’ Week, I invite everyone to take a deeper interest in their local Catholic school. Families with school aged children are welcome to discover how time at Bishop Carroll or your local Catholic school can fill that void in their lives. Dedication to a Catholic education does not only apply to those with school-aged children. I encourage others to see how their time, talent, and treasure can benefit our students. Finally, please thank those who give so much to Catholic education. As Pope Francis once said, “Let us thank all those who teach in Catholic schools. Educating is an act of love; it is like giving life.”
Jonathan Nagy, M.Ed., is the Dean of Students and Social Studies teacher at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Ebensburg. He is also the Music Director at the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel in Loretto.