Column by Jonathan Nagy
“No Catholic school can be effective without dedicated Catholic teachers, convinced of the great ideal of Catholic education. The Church needs men and women who are intent on teaching by word and example – intent on helping to permeate the whole educational milieu with the spirit of Christ. This is a great vocation, and the Lord himself will reward all who serve in it as educators in the cause of the word of God.” – Pope Saint John Paul II
The role of “educator” has always been one of extreme importance, evolving over the centuries. Today, educators are not only responsible for teaching, but they also fulfill many other duties including fundraising, mediating, counseling, protecting, evaluating, encouraging, and disciplining. Teachers are expected to be IT experts, event coordinators, trip planners, and more. Educators must be up to date on new techniques for the classroom, train on how to use the latest technology, and learn about how to keep students safe and secure. Each year, unseen challenges present themselves to teachers across the country, challenges which were amplified since the onset of the pandemic. This has led to teachers fleeing the profession in record numbers, stressed by all of the expectations placed upon them.
Catholic educators are accountable for all of those responsibilities, plus one more additional duty. Catholic school educators must model the behavior of the ultimate Teacher, Jesus Christ, while leading students closer to Him and His Word. On top of all of the other duties listed above, this may be the most daunting responsibilities of all, and yet, Catholic school teachers are some of the happiest teachers.
It is well known that Catholic school teachers are not paid on an equal scale as public school teachers, yet that is not a concern they discuss regularly. Catholic school teachers are not provided an endless supply of bells and whistles, but they do outstanding things with the materials they have. Catholic school teachers dip into their own pockets to purchase items, sponsor events, and participate in endless fundraisers, all out of the love that is in their hearts for what they do. Now in my 18th year as an educator at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School, I can truthfully say that my colleagues are some of the happiest teachers, not in spite of the added duties, responsibilities, and challenges, but because of them.
I recently had a conversation with a fellow teacher at Bishop Carroll concerning the students’ need for emotional support. She remarked that she has taught in public schools where student care is often overlooked in pursuit of academic benchmarks. That doesn’t happen at a Catholic school, mainly because Jesus Christ is at the center of everything that we do. We use a balanced approach of our faith and using the temporal tools given to us to help every student any way that we can. We can turn to God, and we encourage our students to do the same in times of praise and difficulty.
I’m often asked if I feel restricted by what I am able to teach at a Catholic school. On the contrary, I feel free! In my social studies and politics classroom, we are not only able to discuss the issues of the past, present, and future, but we can do so with open dialogue about church teachings and practices. Every period of every day at Bishop Carroll begins with a prayer. I have chosen to use the prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel, invoking that great saint to help put armor on my students as they wage spiritual warfare in a darkening world.
I see other teachers and staff members who do far more than what is required for our students. Several individuals drive students in school vans to athletic competitions, activities, or even just a daily commute. You cannot attend a sporting event, play, or concert without seeing several staff members in attendance. The staff supports fundraisers, buys tickets, attends events, and purchases a life’s supply of hoagies and pizzas. Some are aware that several families struggle to sell their allotment, and they ask to sell some of their tickets for them. This is all done without fanfare, nor would any of them want the attention. They do these things because they love, care, and are genuinely concerned for our students.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has on their website a list of duties that Catholic schools and educators are to fulfill. I would like to focus on three of these statements.
1. Catholic schools understand that education is a formative process, centered on Jesus Christ the Teacher, and ordered to the cultivation of wisdom and virtue, which leads to human flourishing.
If we keep Jesus Christ as the center of all education, nothing but wisdom can prevail. Catholic educators examine all aspects of the world, even in science classes, and especially in religion classes. To know one’s own position better, one must understand other positions. The only answer to the difficult questions of life is that God did everything for a reason. We may never know the reasons for most things but having Jesus Christ as the prime teacher will only bring us closer to that wisdom. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Following the ways of the Teacher will lead to unlimited flourishment in life!
2. Catholic schools proclaim that truth, goodness, and beauty form the soul, are worthy in their own right, and are meant for everyone.
Contrary to popular belief, Catholic schools do not prohibit enrollment if a student is not Catholic. We believe that a Catholic education is open to all who seek it, knowing that the teachings will be Christ-centered. In John 8:31-32, Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Truth is the only defense against evil, and truth is found in Catholic schools. Combining truth with wholesome goodness and inner beauty will create the most wonderful souls. The goal is to provide the students with the tools necessary to achieve and lead a soul-led life.
3. Catholic Schools embrace the Church’s understanding of the inherent dignity of the human person, recognizing that all are made in God’s image, and all share a common destiny with Him.
One of the most popular clubs at Bishop Carroll, and I would suspect at most Catholic schools, is the Pro-Life Club. Students are on fire for the protection of human life from natural birth to natural death. They participate in fundraisers for Birthright, attend marches, pray the Rosary, make awareness posters, and so much more in the defense of life. They recognize and see God in others, and understand that each person has dignity, no matter the message society conveys. Catholic school students are the kindest, most compassionate individuals, because they have been educated in an environment that promotes Christian values, beliefs, and behaviors.
None of those goals could be fulfilled without the dedication of Catholic educators. Everyone who works in a Catholic school is an educator, whether they are teachers, secretaries, custodians, coaches, cooks, or assistants. Each one plays a role in the development of the students, and all work together for the betterment of the students. It is cliché to say that it takes a child to raise a village, but it truly takes a staff of many with varying talents to help develop Christ-loving children.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all of my colleagues at Bishop Carroll for their dedication to our students. They see what they do as much more than just a job. For many, teaching in a Catholic school is a vocation as serious as the priesthood or marriage. I cannot say enough about the support that the staff not only shows towards the students, but to each other. We are a family, united together in Christ with a common goal, and we care for each other in a deeply personal way. Many have helped me in the difficulties of my own life in ways that I can never repay, nor would they want repaid. We just continue to look out for each other and support each other. To each and every one who works at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School, thank you for what you do for our students and each other. You are some of the most inspirational people as you continue to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission at the Ascension, as written in Matthews Gospel (28:19-20), “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Thank you to everyone who supports Catholic schools, students, and educators. Your encouragement, sponsorship, and assistance mean so much! I invite everyone to take time to look and see how you can support Catholic schools and help provide a Christ-centered education to all who desire one!
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.