By Tony DeGol
What a difference a few short months can make in the life of young student. Just ask Chloe, a seventh grader at Our Lady of Victory Catholic School in State College.
“I have only been at OLV a short time – since April of last year,” she stated. “OLV has changed my life, helping me improve in a vast number of subjects. The teachers are amazing, the students are very friendly and helpful, and I’ve made lots of friends since I got here.”
Samantha, meanwhile, has attended the school much longer, and her experience has been just as rewarding.
“I have been going to OLV for eight years,” she mentioned. “Throughout those years I have never felt lonely. Every time I go to lunch, I’ve always had someone to sit with. Every time at recess, I’ve always had someone to play with.”
Samantha and Chloe are among the many Our Lady of Victory students eager to share their success stories with others as the school gets ready to celebrate Catholic Schools Week 2020.
This year’s theme is “Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.”
During this upcoming week, Catholic schools throughout Altoona-Johnstown will highlight how each epitomizes the theme. The schools will also join the faithful in celebrating the blessing and rich tradition of Catholic education in the diocese.
There are 13 Catholic elementary schools in the diocese and four independent Catholic high schools. The current diocesan enrollment is 3,267, which includes preschool, elementary, and secondary schools. More than 300 faculty serve the schools.
“As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week 2020, it is a great time to recognize the solid foundation that only a Catholic education can provide our precious young people,” stated Bishop Mark in his Catholic Schools Week message to the faithful. “When I visit Catholic schools throughout the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, I am always impressed by the faith of our students and families. They put that faith into action through compassionate and enthusiastic service to others. Our schools also have the highest academic standards and are constantly finding innovative teaching techniques to help children learn and grow. Indeed, our Catholic schools provide a complete education experience that reflects the theme of Catholic Schools Week 2020.”
At Our Lady of Victory, school leaders invited students, including Chloe and Samantha, to write a personal message on a post card about how their OLV experience is shaping their lives. Those post cards are being sent to the community announcing the school’s open house.
It is reassuring to leaders at OLV to see the powerful impact of Catholic education in the students’ words.
“I would just like to say how amazing OLV is,” wrote Addie. “I have been at this school for eight years now, and I can truly say it has prepared me for high school. The teachers at this school have genuine care for each and every students’ success. Everyone here is so kind and generous to everyone.”
Eighth grader Kathryn urged: “You should send your kid here because every day we learn how to come closer to God. Not only that, but we become better people every day.”
Father Jonathan Dickson, Parochial Vicar at Our Lady of Victory Parish and chaplain at Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy in Boalsburg, sees Catholic schools as a community.
“It’s a place where kids can grow and come to understand their faith and do it in a way that’s comfortable and in a way that they can embrace their faith in an atmosphere that allows them to do so,” he observed. “I think they’re good kids. They’re on fire with their faith, and I truly think they’re seeking Jesus Christ, which is so important to the heart of a priest. It gives me a lot of hope.”
The Very Reverend John Byrnes, JCL, JV, Rector of the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel, Pastor of Saint Michael School in Loretto, and Catholic school alum, calls Catholic education the best youth ministry program any diocese can offer.
“You can take a math class or a science class or a history class and you can insert the glory of God, the beauty of God into that,” explained Father Byrnes, Pastor of Saint Michael School in Loretto and Rector of the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel. “You can educate the whole person. Everything is integrated, and I think that is what I always valued in Catholic education, and that’s what we’re able to provide the children today. Every day when you come into the classroom, you begin with prayer and you know your relationship with God and your relationship with others.”
Catholic education, Father Byrnes continued, reinforces the fact that all of us are made in the image and likeness of God.
“From that, you see the beauty of God’s creation in all the different subject areas, in the arts, in music, and in sports,” he added. “I can’t think of a better way to have a child formed to face the difficulties of this world. If you know who you are, and that is built-in from kindergarten through eighth grade, I think you produce a young adult who knows who they are, knows what they believe, and is an asset in this world.”
Adding to Father Byrnes’ comments, Saint Michael Math teacher Sarah Steinbugl believes her school is a shining example of the Catholic Schools Week theme.
“Academics are number one here as well as our faith,” she maintained. “Serving is something that we do all the time with service projects like cards for the veterans and donating goods to the Dorothy Day Center. The opportunities and experiences that students get here allow them to be good leaders and very successful in life.”
Saint Michael students Trevor, Liam, and Ava cited faith-related examples of why they love their school.
“We get prayer buddies, and we get to go to church with them and teach them how to act and get to bond with them,” noted Trevor, an eighth grader.
“I love learning Religion and learning about the saints and what Jesus did when He was alive,” fifth grade student Liam added.”
“I love going to Mass every Friday and how all the teachers here are so nice and help you a lot,” weighed in Ava, a third grader.
There were similar sentiments at Saint Matthew School in Tyrone,
Sixth grade student Grace loves being in an environment where she can celebrate her Catholic faith.
“We get to express our feelings about Jesus, and we don’t have to hide them,” she said. “It’s awesome!”
Educators have the advantage of teaching the students not only academically, but also spiritually, added Saint Matthew teacher Jennifer Casanave.
“We see that they become life-long learners not only with the education aspect but also with spiritual growth,” she said.
Catholic Schools Week 2020 is extra-special at Saint Matthew as the school continues its 150th anniversary celebration.
It is a tradition certainly not lost on Lucas, a third grader who has many relatives who attend Saint Matthew School over the years. He is proud to carry the torch.
“It’s just me now,” he admitted.
To Lucas and all of the others carrying on the great Catholic school tradition. Happy Catholic Schools Week!
[Photo: Students at Our Lady of Victory School in State College get ready to celebrate Catholic Schools Week 2020.]