Column: Catholic schools help kids encounter the world through the lens of faith

Kathy O'Hara is the superintendent of archdiocesan schools.
Kathy O’Hara is the superintendent of archdiocesan schools.

by Kathy O’Hara

Dear friends of Catholic schools,

Picture this: Two kindergartners run up to the crèche at their Catholic school. Just as they get to the manger, the young boys stop in their tracks, stuff their hands into their pockets, and stand very still. (No doubt some wise mom and/or teacher taught them this “hand-in-the-pocket” strategy when they are allowed to look but not touch!)

They have repeated this ritual of standing at the crèche each week during Advent. Apparently, it is a tradition at this particular school to add figures to the scene as Advent passes.

First, the manger appeared. Then the hay bales arrived, followed by sheep and donkey figurines. Just before Christmas vacation, Mary, Joseph, and an empty crib were added. This was the scene this particular day when the little boys were standing at the crèche.

One whispered to the other, “Where’s the Baby Jesus?”

“I don’t know,” the other replied. “Maybe he’s lost.”

A first-grade girl who was listening came over to them. She told them, using a voice of a much “older and wiser” first-grader, “I can tell you why the Baby Jesus isn’t in the crib. It’s because Santa brings him on Christmas morning!”

This story is part of what I love about Catholic schools. Even though these young students were a bit confused(!), at least they have the opportunity to learn in school what Christmas is.

Some of my fondest memories of my own Catholic schooling and that of my children (and now grandchildren) are of how we celebrated the liturgical seasons and holy days. We learned about them in religion class, read stories about them in literature, made projects in art, and sang hymns in music. It seemed that everything that we did in school was related to our faith. Even at a young age, I remember that being very comforting.

Catholic schools today are providing that same experience and comfort. It is a great gift we give our students — to help them make sense of the world around them through the lens of our faith. Yet, somehow I think it is our students who truly are the teachers at times.

As I reflect on the story of the two kindergarten boys, I am reminded of Jesus’ admonition that we should have faith like children. The purity and innocence of the boys at the manger touches my heart, and I feel so blessed to be able to serve in the ministry of Catholic schools.

May you and your families have a blessed Christmas season. I pray you have the opportunity to experience it through the eyes of a child.

¡Vaya con Dios!

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