This weekend, I had the opportunity to assist at a Confirmation Retreat for our church parish. “Great,” I thought, “I get to spend the weekend with a bunch of kids who could care less about the faith.” NOT my best attitude moment, for sure. I am so thankful that the Lord opened my heart to the young people this weekend, the majority of which were public school kids.
Just like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, our family struggled with the decision of education for our children. While St. Elizabeth found her way to establish the first Catholic school in America, my husband and I discerned public school education in a small Cajun town for our little babies. The decision was difficult, and approached with lots of prayer and discernment.
The Confirmation Retreat this weekend affirmed our commitment to public school education, and affirmed my own commitment to the lives of the youth in our town, most of which attend the same public schools as our daughters. These kids, who at first were hesitant about their faith on Friday night, were full of joy at a new understanding of themselves and the Lord on Sunday morning. The transformation was tangible, and the pictures prove the emotion and the understanding of what happened.
Our girls have been homeschooled, attended private school and public school. I have noticed that the zeal of the parents for their faith is what motivates a child’s love of and practice of their own faith, rather than the choice of school type.
Within our own small community, I have experienced a phenomena that our public schools seem pretty Catholic. This is reinforced by some of the Catholic administrators who refuse to allow our children to believe that God has nothing to do with school. Our kids see the local administrators in Mass on Sunday. Just yesterday at the 6th grade open house, the social studies teacher told the kids, “Don’t be surprised if your parents know what’s going on, because I will see them in town.” Yep. They will.
When my mother died suddenly, it was the Assistant Principals and teachers that offered prayers to our daughters and to our whole family. When we experienced other tragedies in our family, it was the Assistant Principals and teachers, along with guidance counselors who prayed with and for my girlies. When a young boy was killed in our town, even though he did not attend our church, the parish reached out to the town and held a prayer service that overflowed with the children of the school, along with their parents. The town and church come together in our public school.
I am able to reinforce these lessons with the kids at home. We reach out to our community when they are in need, and because it is a public school, we see lots of the need of the community. They are taught the Catholic faith at home, and through their own actions and witness, they spread the news of the Gospel in their own schools.
I love the Catholic school system, and there are times I wish the kids were in Catholic school for sure. But I don’t lose sleep about our public school decision. I also know that there are others, just over the bridge of the mighty Mississippi River who feel compelled to place their children in Catholic school because of the condition of the public schools. Either way, as Catholic Christians, we cannot ignore our children’s education or faith formation.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton placed her children as her first priority after her husband’s death. The choice of school does not take the place of that priority. Public and private and Catholic and homeschool – you’re the first catechist of your child. If your child is in Catholic school, you don’t get to walk away from their faith formation. Our children are called to live Catholic values in their school situation.
I am called to see Christ in others – including the public school 17 year old male student, who I judge to not care about his faith. I was pleasantly surprised, and am on board for that young man’s journey. I can’t wait to see where God takes him.
5 Tips on Catechizing Your Public School Kids:
1. Be an active participant in the PSR program of your parish.
2. Be an active participant in the youth ministry program of your parish. Have an expectation that your child participate in the ministry of the church. Many of us actively expect our children to participate in a plethora of athletic activities, but when it comes to faith – we leave it up to them. Why? Faith development is too important to leave to chance. Let them pick the activities that most speak to their holiness, but expect participation.
3. As things happen in school, relate those things to your faith. My girls face lots of gossip and bullying at school. We have active conversations about these things every week. I say, “Wow. That’s horrible for that person. We should pray for them.” Or, I ask, “I wonder why people think it is ok to gossip about her? How does that show Jesus’ compassion and mercy?” Sometimes I relate stories of people’s reputations to St. Mary Magdalen. I want them to know how hard it is for someone to get their reputation back. The Bible offers a wide-array of stories to relate to the kids’ experiences in public school.
4. I make sure the girls have a good background in Catholic social teaching. I want them to know that in public school they are going to encounter a range a individuals, and that each individual has dignity as a human being. Some are struggling with things they might not understand, but we always reach out in grace and mercy.
5. Weekly Mass is non-negotiable, of course. I also try to expose the children to Adoration, and help them to frequent the sacrament of Reconciliation. We also participate in the Holy Days of Obligation. We are not good with the family Rosary, just yet. It’s my next faith project with the kids…true devotion to Our Blessed Mother.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us.
Peace of Christ to you and yours,
Copyright 2013 Mary Wallace
About the Author
Mary Wallace, PhD, is a devout Catholic wife, mother of 4 daughters, and college administrator. She is co-host of a Catholic radio show: Faith and Good Counsel, on Baton Rouge Catholic Community Radio. Mary is also a contributing writer at the Integrated Catholic Life. Follow Mary on Facebook.