Joseph wasn't very old when people began asking where we would send him to school. At the time, I was more concerned with learning to parent than thinking about preschool or kindergarten but they persisted. Since I hung out with the conservative Catholics (as I am one) and the hippies (as I am one) two options were presented to me:
Now, both options are good and decent and right for some families. However, I was told over and over and over that the ONLY way to raise faithful Catholic children is to put them in Catholic school or homeschool them. Never mind that our public schools are award winning. Never mind that faith formation begins in the home and no matter how nice the Catholic school is, if you aren't living it at home... well...
In the end, we moved from that parish to a new one that is tithing based. If you tithe your ten percent, your kids can attend the school. In spite of the nice, small public school two blocks away, we looked into the Catholic school. There was a wait list for kindergarten and a down payment to be placed on the list. If he didn't get it, we wouldn't get our money back. Our priest and the office staff were very encouraging that we would make the best choice for our family, reassuring us that our children would receive a great faith formation either in the school or the RE program. Because we couldn't afford to lose the down payment money, we enrolled Joseph in the public school.
I still hear about this choice, not from the priests so much but that other parents. They ignore the fact that my two boys need an SLP, PT and OT full time, on staff. They ignore the fact that my oldest would have been kicked out of a private school. They ignore the hundreds of dollars in therapy bills we have each month. They ignore the tight food budget, the menu planning, the things we do without to afford the therapy my kids so desperately need. No, if we gave up more, we could tithe and send our kids to the school. If we REALLY REALLY REALLY cared about their immortal souls, we would do anything to send them to the Catholic schools because how else would they grow up to be faithful Catholics if they aren't surrounded by them 24/7? There's no way those "government" schools can nurture these precocious gems.
And you know what? No, my kids aren't studying the canonizations of four popes in school. No one will lead them in a Rosary over lunch and they won't study the lives of saints. They don't go to Mass multiple times a week unless I pull them from school to attend and winter parties aren't Christmas parties. So, no, they aren't getting a Catholic education in the public schools. At least, it's not direct.
Recently, the community was hit with two tragedies. A young man was critical hurt in a swimming accident. This high school senior was pulled under by the waves and damaged his spinal cord. His mother was my sons para and they attend our parish. Both mother and son are in another state as the son undergoes rehab and the mom helps him.
On Palm Sunday, there was a shooting at our Jewish Community Center. Three people were killed, including a high school freshmen and his grandfather. It was a horrible, senseless act, a hate crime.
I feel for our community, especially the young people of our high school. In the past six weeks, they've had to deal with media attention and ask questions that no one wants to ask. But instead of wallowing, you know what they've done? They've surrounded these families with love. The students put on a carnival for the young man who was hurt and raised $22,000. That's dollars, people, dollars! Our school, where the mom worked, is raising money at our own carnival for him, and a teacher and I are working on organizing a garage sale to benefit the family. The parish RE program and the school have card drives going so that this young man will receive cards every day.
The freshman and his grandfather? My kids told me that alot of their teachers took time off to attend his funeral. Staff members helped provide food for the funeral. Because our elementary school is close to the high school, the young children saw the media trucks. The staff went above and beyond to make sure the kids were safe, questions were answered in an age appropriate manner. The principal and superintendent sent out e-mails, telling the parents what was going on and how it was being handled. Everything was done in a gentle, loving manner.
Shortly before the funeral. word came around that Westboro Baptist was going to protest the funeral. What did our community do? Students- not just the students from our high school but schools all over the district- lined the streets surrounding the church with signs that said "Love wins." Motorcycle riders were there, holding similar signs. Westboro was regulated to a small corner, out of the way, and I don't think the family saw them.
What a powerful message, held up by the young people of my community. I don't know if they are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or atheist. All I know is that they held the powerful, loving message in their hands that day: Love wins. In their actions, they showed the message- Love wins. In raising money, donating to causes, hosting the carnival, they are living, acting out Christ's greatest commandment, "Love one another as I have loved you."
No, no my children don't attend Catholic school.Instead, they are shown the example of Christ's love for us and how to carry it out on earth. They are surrounded by adults who will do anything to help them succeed. They are surrounded by people of all ages who, without a second thought, give and give and give some more to those in need. They do all this out of the goodness of their hearts, without calling attention to themselves. Even in these "soulless government schools" my children are surrounded by Christ-like people, living the way Christ calls us to live. There isn't a better example of "love and faith in action" than what these public school teachers and students have shown us over the past six weeks. They are, indeed, surrounded by people who will continue to help them grow into loving, faithful (dare I say it?) Catholic young adults.
Love wins . . . indeed.