by Jessica Langdon
OVERLAND PARK — Some people consider cost. Others, academics.
But Susan and Nick Schilling, parishioners of Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, knew what their first priority in choosing schools for their five children would be: faith.
“You decide what you believe is the most important thing you give your children in the life that they have with you as a family,” said Susan, and you go from there.
All five of their children — 27-year-old Katherine, 26-year-old Patrick, 22-year-old Nicholas Jr., 20-year-old Megan and 16-year-old Christopher — have attended Catholic grade and high schools.
Katherine, Nicholas and Megan even followed in their parents’ footsteps and attended the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
Patrick, who walked on to play football at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, was active in his faith in college.
And Susan loves the fact that Christopher, now a sophomore at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, can lift weights for football in the morning, attend Mass with his friends, and then head off to class.
Planning and sacrifice
The Schillings know that Catholic schools aren’t available to everyone. Susan fears, however, that it’s money, and not geography, that dictates some families’ decisions.
But she encourages families to at least look into Catholic education, even if they think at first it is out of their financial reach.
“Don’t assume that it’s beyond your means if you haven’t talked to those people who are running the schools,” she said.
And if you know it’s your priority from the outset, she believes, families can map out a plan in advance.
“I really think it’s about realizing that every little thing you do adds up,” she said.
Susan runs a life-coaching business called Inspired Lifetime, and she shares the same message with students charting their academic and career paths.
But on the family level, for the Schillings, it has meant taking the kids to the movies only as a rare treat and saving dinners out to celebrate birthdays.
They sought to avoid extravagance in big things and small.
Family vacations meant road trips. The kids not only didn’t always get what they wanted when they wanted it — they didn’t ask for everything.
Susan feels that one financial advantage to Catholic schools is there is not a constant demand for the latest designer clothes, backpacks, or electronics.
“Our schools really allow the students the freedom to not feel that they’re defined by what they personally own,” said Susan.
Valuing Catholic education
In the process of all this, said Susan, the children have acted as partners in their education and developed confidence to lead.
“Although it was a sacrifice for my parents to send me to Catholic schools, I can’t imagine having gone anywhere else,” said Megan, who graduated from Aquinas in 2012 and is now a sophomore at Notre Dame.
“In high school, and college especially, I am grateful for an education rooted in Catholic social teaching and a strong faith community,” she said.
Her interest in Catholic education will extend beyond graduation.
“I hope to eventually work in Catholic education and send my children to Catholic schools,” she said.
Susan sees in the schools a tremendous influence on students by teachers and administrators.
And she’s experienced firsthand how a network of families that share a common faith can support one another in raising children in an environment that benefits Catholic and non-Catholic students alike.
Countless people — even many she hadn’t met — from her children’s schools offered meals, friendship and prayers when she fell hiking in 2008 and was severely injured.
‘Blessed with examples’
It’s just one of many examples of what the schools do every day, she believes.
Nicholas, a senior at Notre Dame, agrees.
“Certainly, reflecting on my education calls to mind a number of memories: caring teachers, formative friendships and intellectual endeavors,” he said.
“However, what stands out most is that, throughout my educational experience, I have been blessed with examples and lessons on how to behave, how to treat people, and how to be a person who could be trusted and could trust others.”
That’s exactly what Susan hopes for.
“I’ve always told my children, ‘If someone comes to me and tells me that you’re an exceptional athlete, that you’re such a great student, but they cannot also tell me that you are a person of faith, kindness and compassion,’” she said, “’then I’ve failed.’”