Sherry Hayes-Peirce explains how her experiences as a student in Catholic schools shaped her faith.
This year we celebrate Catholic Schools week from January 29 to February 4. Being educated in Catholic school really helped me form a community and culture of shared experiences that shaped my Catholicity.
It is fitting that we celebrate these amazing institutions during the month when the feast days of its champions are celebrated. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is the patron saint of Catholic schools in the USA, and the first American to be canonized. St. John Bosco is the patron of schoolchildren. St. John Neumann designed the blueprint for diocesan school systems.
I learned all the traditional prayers by heart during my early years in school and received my sacraments with my classmates. Praying at the beginning of each school day and before tests was the bedrock for my turning to prayer as an adult whenever there was a major challenge in my life. In fact, writing J.M.J (Jesus, Mary and Joseph) on my papers has translated to placing it on documents and some checks as an adult in the hopes of receiving a blessing.
Uniforms were so awesome! It provided another aspect of community in wearing them as an identifier of my membership to my church. At my high school, St. Mary’s Academy in Inglewood, California, we also had a tradition of receiving a tie to be worn through your four years at SMA. Whether you graduated fifty years ago or five years ago, when you meet another Belle the first question isn’t what year you graduated, but what color tie you wore.
My high school was established in 1889 and its motto, “Deus Illuminatio Mea,” continues to inspire me to be a light of Christ in the world.
While most schools no longer have a significant presence of religious sisters or priests, they once served as models for the vocation of religious life. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet were the order that educated me. These women modeled entrepreneurship and business mindedness to us all. From my class of 75 in 1982, the bulk of us by 1992 had started businesses or were finishing up medical, dental, or law school.
My parish, American Martyrs, has a school with 700 families. Every morning when the kids arrive for assembly to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, they also offer a prayer for the day. This simple practice helps to form a habit of praying for God’s will every morning.
As Catholic moms we make the investment to educate our children with our faith practices and teachings as part of the curriculum, in the hopes of planting lifelong habits that will keep us connected to our faith. While some things have changed, the core teaching remains: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”
Attending and learning about the Mass is also a central practice in any Catholic school and religious education program, which reaches beyond the walls of the school into the larger community. Serving as a catechist to your own child and others is a wonderful way to answer the call to serve we all heard in our formative years. Pray about that!
This past summer I took a class at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles about liturgy, and there were reminders that it was a Catholic institution everywhere I turned. From the many statues of St. Ignatius Loyola, IHS symbols, and quotes, I felt connected to my faith. What we learn about our faith shouldn’t end with our graduations from our educational institutions but should continue with lifelong learning.
There are many Catholic institutes, publications, and conferences that help us continue to be connected to our faith in adulthood and I encourage you to seek them out. The National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) has promoted Catholic Schools Weeks for decades; their theme is “Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service.” Catholic schools have a specific purpose: to form students to be good citizens of the world, love God and neighbor, and enrich society with the leaven of the gospel and by example of faith.
So many schools are closing, so please pray during Catholic Schools Week for your alma maters and local schools to be able to remain open.
Copyright 2023 Sherry Hayes-Peirce
Images: copyright 2023 Sherry Hayes-Peirce, all rights reserved.
About the Author
Sherry Hayes-Peirce is a Catholic social media strategist, blogger, conference speaker, podcast guest and contributing author of the Ave Prayer Book for Catholic Mothers. She serves as Digital Engagement Coordinator for American Martyrs Catholic Community in Manhattan Beach, CA, and St. Monica Parish in Mercer Island, WA. Sherry has a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and is grateful to be a digital disciple of Christ.