A Catholic Education for Every Catholic Kid: Education at Non-Catholic Primary Schools

This is the fourth in an ongoing series of columns on the importance of giving all Catholic kids a Catholic education.  (Part one, Part two, Part three.)  In this column, I'd like to offer some ideas on educating children in all things Catholic while they are enrolled in non-Catholic elementary and middle school systems.

Keeping in mind the primary responsibility we have as Catholic parents to see to it that our children are taught heart, hand, and head knowledge of the Catholic faith, it is important to understand that in this regard, all non-Catholic school systems are essentially similar.  No public, private, preparatory, charter, or any other non-Catholic system will partner with us in educating our child in the ways of the Catholic faith.  Some of these systems or teachers within the systems will be supportive of our faith.  Some teachers may even share our faith, but they will not be permitted to share it in the classroom.  Some schools and teachers will be tolerant, some will be openly hostile, and some may actually see it as their duty to "broaden" our kids' horizons with relativism and moral ambiguity.  Most, however, will be ambivalent, and, for that reason, whether intentionally or not, will submarine the life of our children's souls by elevating the life of the mind and the body.

When we had children in the public elementary school, time and energy were the chief family assets we had to invest in the children's education order to keep it Catholic.  We accomplished this by focusing on three distinct areas of their schooling.

First, teachers and curricula.  We paid special attention to our children's teachers' attitudes toward the Catholic faith.  Teachers are powerful influences.  When our kids were in public elementary school, we found it helpful simply to tell the kids' teachers that we were Catholic and to thank them for being respectful of any way this fact might come up in the classroom.  This tactic helped our kids on many occasions.  To do this takes a certain type of boldness — but remember, you are the parent.  Ask God for courage and know that most people respect religious convictions even if they do not share yours or have any of their own.

 Second, parish programs. We made sure to enroll the kids in CCD classes at our parish, and my husband taught each of their First Communion classes.  Rather than join scouting groups or 4H, we joined a non-denominational, Christian kids' club where the kids earned patches for memorizing verses of Sacred Scripture.  There is brand new organization specifically for Catholic kids ages 5-18 called Totus Tuus Catholic Youth Organization.  Founded in 2003, this organization offers Catholic, virtue-based clubs that focus on "virtues, lives of the saints, catechesis, scripture, apologetics, and theology of the body (teens and adults)."

Lastly, home life.  When the kids were in public school, we began a tradition of dinnertime devotions to help us follow the Church liturgical year at home, many of which remain.  For example, during Advent we begin all our dinners by singing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" in complete darkness, then lighting our Advent Wreath, and eating by candlelight.  A good friend takes her son to 7 a.m. Mass on First Fridays before driving him to his private school.  Taking visits to regional shrines, getting Catholic newspapers and magazines instead of secular ones, and inviting priests and religious persons over for dinner are some more ways to learn about the Catholic faith as a family.

Please believe me when I say we have never had the time or energy to add to a lineup of already existing family activities even half of what I've just mentioned.  The key for us has been not to add the Catholic-focused activities, but to replace non-Catholic activities with Catholic-focused ones.  I know that this is a high expectation and may be greeted with grumbling from the kids if we've never done it before, but if we have decided that a non-Catholic school is best for our family, then we are going to have to squeeze time and energy from somewhere other than the school day to see that our children are still able to receive a Catholic education.  This will take "remembering what we really want for our child's education" — which is how I defined having "discipline" in the first column of this series — but I believe God will multiply every good choice we make.

In the next column, we will look at Catholic homeschooling.

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  • Guest

    Very good suggestions.

  • Guest

    Above all, prayer must be the foundation of all Catholic education.  In our village, Sister leads a Holy Hour each week to pray for the faith formation of the children in our parish.  As parents of public school kids and a college student, our daily prayer includes asking the Lord to send friends and companions to our children who support and encourage their faith–anywhere they are.

     Where can we learn more about Totus Tuus? 

     Our family has had excellent experiences with Boy Scouts as a support for the Catholic faith.  The BSA has specific Catholic emblems that can be earned and programs that encourage Catholic Scouts and their leaders.  The National Catholic Committee on Scouting is excellent and sponsors a St. George Trek at Philmont biennially. 



     I cannot say the same about girl scouts.

  • Guest

    Heidi and those with comments-  Thank you so much for writing this series.   It has been most helpful in my research, but I still have a  hurdle- convincing hubby to go private.  He is much more okay with public than I, plus he's opposed to homeschool and not real "hip" on private (b/c of cost, he compartmentalizes faith and thinks our kids will just get "that part" from us and CCD, and the gym program is lacking).

    Any suggestions are most appreciated?  prayers, too  (-:     

  • Guest

    Mrs. Bratton, thanks for the message that every Catholic child should have a Catholic education. I really admire the parents who feel as you do, and are willing to make the sacrifices required to make that dream a reality.

    Now, if our Church leaders would just dream a little …

  • Guest

    When attending a public school it is important the child recognizes their government education is excluding the faith, especially when the children are older (beyond fourth grade). 

    Consistently talking about this can help them see where the government school falls short or shows bias.

    I have found this can actually be an enhancement to their education and an aid to family discussions.

    On the other hand, I have found attending a Catholic school and not talking about the faith, assuming the children "get it" at school, is a fatal mistake.

  • Guest

    We are no longer in Catholic school, and what I've found is that the change really forced us to get out of "auto-pilot" for our son's formation. It lead us to look at the materials our parish uses for faith formation, and evaluate that against others in the dioces. Turns out the most authentic program isn't taught at our parish, or even in our Catholic schools (I would not have know that had we stayed). Now I think he is actually getting better formation than he had.  

    I Googled Totus Tuus and found it here: http://totustuuscyo.com/index.html.

    We are involved in another virtues-based program called K4J (Kids 4 Jesus) Kids Club. It begins with preschool aged children and focuses on growing in virtue with a related saint to show the children how. Like Totus Tuus, K4J segregates the genders (a good idea, really!).  K4J is structured for monthly meetings throughout the school year. It is fairly reasonably priced, and provides leaders with guide books so that activities can be customized for the group (age, gender, space available, etc.). K4J also offers packaged programs for vacation Bible school, too. http://www.k4j.org/


    "The Catholic Church frames the Christian life as one in which you must exercise virtue—not because virtue saves you, but because that's the way God's grace gets manifested." Dr. Francis J. Beckwith

  • Guest

    My children are in high school (junior and freshman) and have been in public school since kindergarten.  I whole-heartedly agree with getting to know the teachers at the school (this is an excellent idea regardless of the school situation) and taking advantage of parish programs.  I have read that the most underserved popluation in the Church is public schooling families.  The responsibility falls not just on the parish, but also on parents who must volunteer at the parish or at least support the parish with funds and prayers.  Also, I have found that the Baltimore Catechism is a valuable resource.

    Thanks for the articles — I'm enjoying and learning from each of them.


  • Guest

    My children are currently in a parochial Catholic school.   (1st and 3rd grade…with a young one to start K in a couple years.)  I came to a very clear decision just a few weeks ago, and I think it is the best decision for us.


    As a family, we are taking the perspective that our children are in a private school for the academic superiority.  (We put our toes into the public school with the oldest, and the academics were clearly too cold.)  It happens to be a private school we can "afford" (read "struggle to afford") – unlike the "other" (read "real") private schools that we could never even consider.  It also happens to have some Catholic activities.  But my children are clearly going to learn their faith – not through the religion classes at school (which may or may not help them along as well), but weekly on Sundays with Mom and Dad.

    I'm beginning to use the Faith and Life series with them, and I plan on covering the Baltimore Catechism with them over the summer time.

    I hope over the years this will minimize scandal that some in the school are not behaving (or teaching) according to the teachings of the Church.  It's just a private school.  For the academics.  It just happens to have some Catholic aspects to it.  Mom and Dad are your religion teachers.

    It's not perfect, but it seems to be my only real option.