Every year, during the last week of January, this nation's 2.4 million Catholic school students and the 200,000 dedicated educators who nurture them pause to celebrate "Catholic Schools Week". This year's celebrations, to be held January 27 through February 2, center on the theme "Catholic Schools Light the Way." Around the country, 7,800 Catholic elementary, middle and secondary schools will gather to pray, to express appreciation, and to showcase Catholic education.
As a mom of two sons who have attended Catholic schools, Catholic Schools Week always reminds me to stop and express the profound gratitude I feel for the tremendous education my children have received. Our journey began on my eldest son Eric's third birthday, when I ceremoniously placed his name on the "waiting list" at the school we hoped he would one day attend. In many areas of the country, Catholic schools are nearly non-existent, so we were blessed to have a choice of several top-notch schools in my community. At the time, my husband had not yet joined the Catholic Church, so I felt a tremendous need to place Eric in a school environment that would help me raise him in our faith traditions.
Thirteen years later, Eric is a sophomore at our local Catholic high school and is well on his way towards leading an independent life. The sacrifices we have made financially along the way to give Eric and his brother Adam the gift of Catholic education have been well worth it — both boys are receiving top quality instruction in a safe and nurturing environment. More importantly, both have a love for our Catholic faith and a commitment to service in our parish community.
An unexpected byproduct of choosing a Catholic school came when my husband Greg decided five years ago to receive the Church's sacraments of initiation through our parish RCIA program. Surrounded by a loving and faith filled school and parish community, Greg was inspired to join the Church. The profound joy I felt in standing with Greg at Adam's First Holy Communion a few weeks later, and watching the two of them receive communion together, still swells in my heart to this day. Our whole family has been dramatically shaped and inspired by our choice of Catholic education for our boys.
Every family situation is different, and every child has a unique and special set of educational needs. For our family, choosing Catholic schools has been the correct option. For this reason, as we near the celebration of Catholic Schools Week, I feel the desire to express my appreciation to the dedicated educators who have given so much to my children, both academically and spiritually. On the website of the National Catholic Education Association (http://www.ncea.org/), the following "Top Ten Ways for Parents to Observe Catholic Schools Week" are suggested:
- Write a note of appreciation to your children's teachers. Thank them for the attention and energy they give your children every day, as well as for their dedication to Catholic education.
- Write a letter to your parish priest, thanking him for supporting the Catholic school that is preparing your children for a bright future.
- Write a letter to your representatives in the U.S. Congress and state legislature to let them know why Catholic education is important to you and your community. Send a copy of your letter to your school principal.
- While you're at it, write a thank-you note to that special teacher from your own Catholic school days who had a significant impact on your life.
- Donate books or other learning materials to the school library. If you can, ask the librarian if the school needs books on certain subjects or for particular grade levels.
- Set aside time for family prayer for all those who contribute to the success of your children's school, including students, teachers, staff and volunteers. Add a prayer for vocations to continue the Catholic education tradition in your community and throughout the country.
- Volunteer to help plan and carry out Catholic Schools Week activities. Whether you are able to contribute a little time or a lot, your effort helps make the week special for all.
- If, through your work or volunteer activities, you learn of a need in the community that students at your children's school can help fill, recommend a Catholic Schools Week or ongoing service project. Better yet, volunteer to organize it.
- Join in the fun! Gather the entire family-from younger siblings to grandparents-and participate in the week's events at your children's school.
- Extend a special invitation to your school's open house and other Catholic Schools Week events to friends and neighbors who might want to learn more about the value of Catholic education.
I myself am a product of sixteen years of Catholic education. This year I want to give a special thanks to my own parents, who endured so much sacrifice to enable my siblings and me to have the gift of Catholic schooling. As I pass this tradition along to my children, I grow more cognizant of the part Catholic education has played in the person I am today. During the week of January 27, I hope you will join me in pausing to thank and to pray for those who help "Light the Way" for so many families.
For additional information on Catholic Schools Week visit www.ncea.org/news/CatholicSchoolsWeek.asp