From kindergarten through eighth grade, I attended a very small Catholic school in central Wisconsin. St. Francis was the only Catholic school in my town, and one of only fourteen Catholic elementary schools in the northern half of the state. I certainly enjoyed my time at St. Francis, but saying that I moved on to high school and college without fully recognizing the impact my school and church had on my life would be an understatement.
I never imagined that I would work to support Catholic education, but I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to this summer. My experience with the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) this summer brought to light my respect and admiration for Catholic schools and the mission of Catholic education, as I served Catholic schools across the country.
These lessons stand out as I reflect on this past summer. First, Catholic schools continue to face and overcome tremendous challenges. Although my small Catholic school faced recruiting challenges and declining enrollment, like many Catholic schools nationwide, these challenges can easily be exacerbated by factors far beyond the control of even stellar school leadership and committed faculty. I remember conversations with school principals who were shouldering so much: the responsibility of supporting the mental health of staff and students, deportation of school parents, and more. Many of these challenges continue to be magnified by the current coronavirus pandemic. Catholic school administrators are some of the most resilient people I have ever met, and God’s hand of protection over these schools is the only explanation I can think of to rationalize their relentless perseverance.
The second is the universal scope of the mission of Catholic education. Growing up in central Wisconsin, I never realized as a Catholic school student, I was part of something so much larger than our small parish and school community. Many of those that I’ve spoken with this summer have said that working for or partnering with NCEA encouraged them to connect with this national network of Catholic school leaders and supporters. Each individual I had the privilege to meet this summer cares deeply about Catholic education and the students and families entrusted to our collective care. I now have thousands of new role models, and strive to be more like each and every one of them.
The final lesson I learned is really an encapsulation of everything I learned about myself this summer and throughout my time at Notre Dame so far -- my years in Catholic education have and continue to have a huge impact on my life. I integrate my faith into every aspect of my life, and I dedicate my formation to the permeation of faith into my Catholic education. I was able to form authentic relationships with my teachers and classmates in ways that I have not been able to in other aspects of my life. Looking back, I grew up surrounded by role models not only in academics, but most importantly in the faith.
Though I may not have noticed it at the time, my Catholic education has truly shaped the person I am today.
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