by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Some months ago, I was on an airplane returning to Kansas City. I was seated next to a man who is a parishioner in the archdiocese.
Through one of my Leaven columns, he was aware that I was a baseball fan. He told me that his son was in eighth grade and had decided to attend a public high school because of the baseball coach at the school. His son was quite talented and loved baseball.
This man impressed me. He was obviously a very active member of his parish. From our conversation, I could tell that he was a devoted husband and father. He was a successful and principled businessman. He was a good example of what it means to be a Catholic.
However, I was saddened that his son would not be attending one of our Catholic high schools. I felt bad that no matter how great the academics or the athletic programs in the school that he would be attending, the most important part of his future formation public schools are not permitted to provide.
In December, I visited Bishop Ward High School (BWHS) to celebrate
Mass with the students. Afterward I had lunch with some of the students.
I asked them why they had chosen to attend BWHS. A sophomore student told me that Father Michael Hermes (the president of BWHS) had visited her elementary school when she was in eighth grade. She told Father Michael that she was determined to go to college, even though no one in her family was a college graduate. Father Michael told her that she should come to Ward, because at Ward they would not only get her into college, but they would also get her to heaven!
A few months ago, I met with the presidents of all our Catholic high schools. Dr. Bill Ford, the president of St. Thomas Aquinas High School, told me that the students on their own initiative have organized the praying of a decade of the rosary every day after school in the chapel. The student leaders begin by asking the students to offer any intentions that they want remembered in their prayer. Dr. Ford said that most days the chapel is overflowing. Two of this year’s Aquinas seniors have been accepted to enter the seminary next fall.
Last week, I met with the board at Bishop Miege High School. The board informed me that at each of their meetings one of the Miege faculty makes a presentation on how our Catholic faith is being infused into the particular subject they teach, e.g., math, biology, English, etc. At our Catholic high schools, the Catholic faith is not just taught in theology classes, but our faculties strive to integrate it into every aspect of the curriculum as well as the extracurricular activities.
Recently, Mr. Andy Tylicki, the president of St. James Academy (SJA) sent me an email he had received from one of last year’s graduates who currently attends a large state university. In her email, she expressed gratitude for the academic preparation she had received at SJA enabling her to be successful in her college studies. Naturally, she was also thankful for the many friendships that she had made with students and faculty during her years at SJA.
However, it was the faith formation and the assistance in developing vir- tues for which this young woman was most grateful. At college she lives in a sorority house. She noted that many of her sorority sisters choose to make different life choices than she does.
She wrote: “I am strong in my convictions and all of these women accept and respect me for who I am. Being in a sorority is a great experience to meet all types of women and learn about other people’s lives, but most importantly, I believe I am in this house to get these women to heaven. Some do not believe in God. Others have a faith life I can only dream of, but I know with the skills St. James Academy has provided me, it is my obligation to get these women to heaven. I often get asked: Where did I find my faith? Or why am I so passionate about my faith? It is a simple reply: Well, my parents raised me Catholic and then I choose to continue and own my faith by creating a relationship with the Lord. It is not always easy, but I believe God gave me the tools that I needed to succeed from my parents who encouraged my faith life and decided it was important I receive a Catholic education and more importantly decided I needed to attend St. James Academy, where the teachers and staff . . . were open about their faith, which gave me the strength to own my faith for myself.”
Wow! What this recent graduate expressed is precisely what I am determined must be offered to every student at our Catholic high schools.
I am edified by how our Catholic high school boards, presidents, principals, faculties, and staffs have embraced this vision. Space does not permit, but I could have also included in this article beautiful examples of faith formation at Hayden High School, Immaculata High School and Maur Hill-Mount Academy.
Of course, parents are the primary educators of their children. Catholic families where the faith is lived and celebrated are the best and most effective vehicles for passing the faith to the next generation. However, Catholic schools are a Catholic parent’s best friend in assisting them with the passing on of the faith. Later this month,
I will communicate to our priests and then to the entire archdiocese a plan for helping to keep our Catholic high schools financially accessible to all families.
I urge Catholic parents to make a Catholic secondary education a prior- ity for your family. I know it requires a significant financial sacrifice on your part. However, it is worth it, because all of our Catholic high schools are committed not just to getting your son or daughter into college, but more im- portantly, into heaven. In fact, we not only want to help your sons or daughters get to heaven themselves, but we want them to be equipped to bring others to heaven with them.