The Art of a Catholic School


Column by Jonathan Nagy

The great Renaissance artist Michelangelo created some of the most beautiful works of art the world has ever seen.  He was famous for painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, which, if I were asked to do so, my response would have been, “You want me to paint what where?” He was also known for gorgeous sculptures including the Pieta and the David.  Once, when asked about his inspiration in his carvings, he said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”  When asked how he could have come up with such a beautiful design for his kneeling angel statue, Michelangelo responded, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
What a powerful thought that is!  Michelangelo saw the potential in the giant rock that was in front of him.  He was not intimidated by the amount of work it would take to ‘free’ the angel in the marble.  He was determined to show everyone else what he knew was inside, and what a gorgeous result it was.
The same thought and quote can be applied to our Catholic Schools.  One of the greatest aspects of my job is being able to visit each of the grade schools in the Prince Gallitzin Quadrant several times each year.  Every teacher and principal is doing with his or her students what Michelangelo did with the marble.  They see the potential in front of them in their classrooms and get the most out of each and every child.  Each time I walk into one of our schools, I am awed by what I see happening.  The students are kind, courteous, and deeply committed to their faith.  The classwork which they create is astounding and impressive.  Standing behind each of them are the remarkable adults involved in these schools, including teachers, principals, aides, pastors, and volunteers, who encourage them every step of the way, and are completely dedicated to their vocation.
I will always be indebted to our grade schools, because I benefit at the high school level from the solid foundations that my students have received early in life.  My colleagues and I take the baton that was handed to us and continue to foster what has already been instilled in these young people and help set them on the right path for adulthood.
Those who can count themselves fortunate to have been involved in a Catholic School know that the Holy Spirit is alive and well. He acts as a guiding hand in assisting these students to grow in spirit, heart, mind, and body, in order to help them become the best possible members of their families, communities, church, and world.  Unfortunately, many have never set foot in a Catholic School.  The doors of our schools are always open to everyone!  In the book of Matthew, the last command that Jesus gave to his apostles was to go forth and teach (28:20).  Our own Father Demetrius Gallitzin made educating the people in the name of Jesus Christ a priority when he arrived in the Allegheny Mountains.  It is up to us to continue both the instruction given to us by the Lord and the mission laid out by Father Gallitzin.
Students in the schools are also very artistic, much like the aforementioned Michelangelo, in a great many ways. They use their talents to make wonderful music, excel athletically, and discover the wonders of the world in all subject areas.  They possess skills that create beautiful paintings, science projects, writing assignments, and theater productions.  However, the greatest art to come out of our schools are the students themselves.  It is written in the book of Isaiah that, “We are the clay, you are the potter, we are all the work of your hand.” (64:8). The hand of God is at work in our Catholic Schools, molding and shaping each student, through the guidance of their teachers and their own abilities, into beautiful creations.
We have all heard the phrase that, “Families that pray together, stay together.”  We are also familiar with the thought that people who grow up being taught how important faith is are more likely to pass it on to future generations.  While we may not be a blood-related family within the schools, we are a family in the eyes of God, and we are not afraid to pray to Him in thanksgiving and petition.  That is what sets us apart from other schools.  Our faith in God is what will allow us to continue fulfilling our mission now and far into the future!
During the month of January, we take time out of the year to celebrate our Catholic Schools.  When someone completes a wonderful work of art, the artist is proud and wants to share that masterpiece with others.  We should be doing the same with the works of art that are our Catholic Schools.  We are happy to invite others to join our school families and allow them the opportunity to have their children taught by not only outstanding teachers, but also the greatest teacher, Jesus Christ.  He is present every day in our schools, molding clay into pottery.
I am proud to be a product of 13 years of Catholic education.  I am proud to have been teaching in a Catholic school for 15 years.  However, I am most proud of the works of art that I see in our schools every day.  If I could paraphrase Michelangelo’s quote to describe what I see daily, it would be that “I saw a Christian with potential in every child, and I assisted in guiding that child on their journey of faith in Jesus Christ.”  Celebrate the art that is Catholic education!  I know I do!

Jonathan Nagy, M.Ed., is the Director of Admissions 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.