Celebrate the gift of our distinct Catholic system

By  Dorothy Pilarski, Catholic Register Special
  • May 3, 2010
Catholic schoolSome of the most profound moments in my spiritual life — outside of  the sacraments and giving birth to my children — have been experienced in an ordinary Catholic elementary school right near my home in Mississauga, where I have run both a Rosary Club and Saints Club. The joys of praying with children, witnessing the prompting of their souls and feeling the abundant grace as they sang with united hearts, often left me speechless.

At times it could also be gut wrenching. Prayer petitions about everything from cancer, family break ups, job losses, to the death of a dear pet, tugged at our hearts. But in those moments of prayer, on Friday’s at lunch time, we had each other and our faith.

There were also painful moments when our little group got looks of disdain from people who just didn’t get it. Often, those moments would be instantly healed when a teacher would kneel down and join us in prayer. Or when one of the cool kids in school prayed with us. Running those two clubs was a constellation of mystical moments, supernaturally brilliant. The experience helped me see that Catholic schools really are a gift.

Where else could I go at lunchtime, in the middle of my busy workday, declare my Catholic beliefs, catechize and pray boldly with young Catholics and whomever else might want to join us? It proved to me that Jesus is alive and well in our schools, but I think He is looking for help.

Being a Catholic parent and professional consultant, I have wrestled with educational issues for years. I have spent countless hours talking to educators, professionals, mothers, priests, bishops, homeschoolers and children about our education system. Having had my children in both a private Catholic school and the public Catholic system, I have heard all the debates about the faults in the system and ways to improve them.

Catholic education includes many parents and educators who are either lukewarm or not fully practising their faith. At the same time, there are vibrant, committed educators and parents in the system who are working hard to make both catechesis and Christ alive in classrooms. As in any family, these two differing views and practices can cause both beauty and tension within the system. But there is a distinct Catholic system. We must never lose sight of the gift of its existence. We must never stop being grateful for it and praying for it. It is a gift to be treasured and to be defended.

There are many people, teachers and students, whose introduction to Jesus came in a classroom. If our schools were closed to all but devout, practising Catholics, we wouldn’t be fulfilling our mission to evangelize. We would be an insular group preaching to the converted. So it’s good that there are differing views and active dialogue in our hallways.

At the same time, it is critical that non believers teaching in our system operate with integrity and do nothing to undermine Church teaching. In the corporate world, if you are hired by an organization and then disrespect it or discredit its mission with a personal agenda, you are fired.

I have often been struck by the fact that many parents do not take their kids to church but they do enrol them in Catholic schools and attend school assemblies and productions in droves. That makes schools a potential platform for evangelization. Why not catechize the parents right then and there, while they are inside the school? There are several ways to do this. For example, have students put on a production of St. Joan of Arc or, at Christmas, a Nativity play. Or supplement the school book fair with a selection of authentically Catholic literature. Every school newsletter ought to have a catechetical corner and every  curriculum night should open with a dynamic Catholic speaker.

That’s where we all come in. Do we want Catholic schools, in addition to the three-Rs, to provide a spiritual experience? If so, we must roll up our sleeves and commit to helping bringing Jesus to life throughout our school system. That means getting involved. Start by spending a little less time watching TV or browsing the Internet and dedicate that time to using your talents to help build up the communities of faith in our schools.

(Pilarski, a professional speaker and consultant, can be reached at www.dorothypilarski.com.)

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