When I was an associate pastor at St. Joseph parish in South Bend, Indiana, I met a fifth-grade boy named Gabe who wanted to become Catholic. Gabe learned about our Catholic faith in his religion classes, he went to Mass with his classmates, and he decided he wanted to be baptized. His parents sent him to a Catholic school, but Gabe’s family didn’t go to Mass on Sunday and his parents didn’t quite know what to make of their son’s desire to join the Church. But they were supportive of their son and took him to Mass one Sunday. The spark of Gabe’s enthusiasm and faith spread to the rest of his family and I started to see them at Mass every weekend. Not long after, Gabe’s dad joined RCIA, his little sister was baptized, and his mom who had grown up Catholic, came back to the Church.
The seeds of faith, sown at his Catholic school, drew Gabe’s family together in faith and made them an inspiration for the parish as Gabe was baptized and his dad was confirmed at the Easter Vigil that year. That was nearly seven years ago, and to this day, Gabe’s whole family is deeply involved in the life of the parish and school. Gabe is now a senior in a Catholic high school and is in the process of choosing which college (of the many that accepted him!) he would like to attend next year.
Gabe’s story is certainly an extraordinary one, but the idea that a Catholic school could enliven a parish community is certainly not unique. My former pastor, Fr. John DeRiso, CSC often told me, “a strong school means a strong parish.” And while I’m the product of Catholic schools and absolutely love them, I also know that a school can often be a financial burden to a parish. But what better place is there to spend the resources of a parish than in the formation and growth of the next generation of Catholics?
Catholic schools infuse life, faith, and hope into our parishes as senior parishioners see the future of our Church in young people. Catholic schools create a bond between young people and their home parish that they carry with them in high school and beyond. Catholic schools draw young families and their children into the life of a parish and transform the education of young people into the formation of their families in drawing them closer to Christ through the Sacraments.
Through young people like Gabe, Catholic schools—far from being a burden—bring life, hope, and even a deeper sense of Christ’s presence to a parish community.