by Father Mark Goldasich
I don’t recall having Catholic Schools Week when I was a student. Of course, those were the days when we walked to school barefoot, in snow every day, and uphill both ways.
If you look at the masthead at the bottom of page 3, you’ll see my name followed by the letters “stl.” People often ask what that stands for, wondering if perhaps I belong to a religious order. After almost 23 years of Catholic education, I tell them it stands for “Slow.To.Learn.” (Actually, it stands for Licentiate in Sacred Theology, an academic degree midway between a master’s and a doctorate in American terms.)
This year’s Catholic Schools Week theme is: “Faith. Excellence. Service.” Honestly, I experienced all three throughout my education. I remember with gratitude and fondness the many teachers who inspired me by their dedication, expertise and love of learning. They instilled in me a thirst for knowledge and an ability to think critically.
I can’t help but think of this story, from Kevin G. Harney’s “Seismic Shifts,” as I reflect on those teachers:
Every day, at the same time, Margaret would open the bathroom cabinet, take out a huge bottle of castor oil and head to the kitchen for a tablespoon.
At the sound of that silverware rattling, Patches — her Yorkshire terrier — would sprint off and hide.
Someone convinced Margaret that Patches would have strong teeth, a beautiful coat and a long life if she gave him a spoonful of castor oil daily. So, as an act of love, every 24 hours, Margaret would corner Patches, pin him down, pry open his mouth and pour that castor oil down his little doggy throat. Neither Patches nor Margaret enjoyed this daily wrestling match.
Then one day, in the middle of this battle, Patches sent the dreaded bottle of castor oil flying across the kitchen floor with one powerful kick. It was a victory for Patches, since Margaret had to let him go and grab a towel to clean up the mess.
When Margaret returned to the kitchen, she was shocked at the sight. There was Patches eagerly licking up the spilled castor oil with a look of utter contentment. Margaret burst out laughing. Now, it all made sense!
Patches liked the castor oil. What he hated was being pinned down and having it poured down his throat. (Story found in “1001 Illustrations That Connect,” edited by Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof.)
Those memorable teachers from my past had a gift of providing students what was good for us (“the castor oil”) without shoving it down our throats. Particularly when it came to the faith, we could sense their joy and enthusiasm; it was something more “caught” than “taught.”
My one regret is that it took me so long to appreciate those long-ago teachers, and that I never took the opportunity to tell them how much they influenced me.
If you’ve made the same mistake, Catholic Schools Week is an ideal time to rectify it. Make time to let those inspirational teachers know the impact they’re having, whether in Catholic schools or in religious ed programs.
And above all, let’s remember what those teachers knew so well: Our faith is attractive in itself . . . without having to be shoved down people’s throats.
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