Good morning. In the spirit of celebrating Catholic Schools Week, Fr. Larry asked me to share with you all about why I’m here - why I’m teaching in Catholic schools. The simple and first answer might actually surprise you and sound like something you might say: my mom made me do it. Okay, so she didn’t make me, but when the time came to graduate from college, she more than gently nudged me toward the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program - a 2 year Masters of teaching program. I applied, got accepted, and moved out to Phoenix, Arizona to teach 4th grade at a Catholic elementary school for three years. I loved it. Every (well, probably not every) minute of it. I’ve been teaching in Catholic schools ever since, so, the rest, as they say, is history…
Now, here we are in 2017, and it’s been almost 6 years that I’ve been in Chicago teaching at our school...so why am I here? Why am I still teaching in Catholic schools when there are plenty of other needs, job opportunities, and more out there? I think that might be more of what Fr. Larry had in mind when he asked me to share with you. So, what makes me stay in Catholic education?
There is essentially one overarching reason, and that breaks down into 3 supporting ones. So, big reason: I am Catholic first. It’s how I identify myself and it’s what matters most. I put it before saying I’m a teacher, identical twin, woman, daughter, student, Chicagoan, Michigan State and Notre Dame fan… Catholic comes first. And here’s why:
I want to touch on three (did you catch the Catholic symbolism - 3 in 1?) reasons why being Catholic is so important to me, which I hope will, in turn, illustrate why I am a Catholic school teacher.
One: My parents brought my sister and me to Mass every Sunday and sent us to amazing Catholic schools from kindergarten to 12th grade. Without a doubt, it was a firm faith foundation. We NEVER missed Mass. That’s not to say I always wanted to go - in fact, I faked sick one time, and I still regret doing so to this day - but going to Mass truly became a family event. And it was special. And it was sacred. And, what I learned about in the Gospels didn’t stop at the church doors for me - my parents LIVED it, and they encouraged me and my sister to live it too. From singing in choir to volunteering for teaching kindergarten religious education to spending time with parishioners at the spaghetti dinner, my parents gave of their time, talent, and treasure consistently. When my sister and I got to high school and started going to daily 7am Mass, my dad would drive us to school, stay for Mass, and THEN go to work. (When you get to be in 8th grade, you’ll get to hear more stories about my dad, I promise.) I could go on and on about my parents, but a) I would more than likely tear up and b) ain’t nobody got time for that. So, supporting reason 1: I was brought up Catholic by my parents and learned the faith through my experiences with them both in and out of church.
Two: This one to me is so beautiful and simple: I believe in the goal of the Catholic life - to get to heaven and to take as many people with you as possible. In working with all of you amazing young people - that’s the challenge and the joy rolled into one. The challenge is that I know you sometimes tune me out, but the joy is that when you do listen, you just might hear God through discussions or activities we do in class or on retreats, and a small seed may be planted. So, 2: I believe in the goal of the Catholic life - to live in such a way that you get to heaven and bring as many people with you as possible.
If you’re keeping track, there’s one more to go: 3) I love the Catholic Mass and the Sacraments, and I get to participate in them regularly as part of my job. Many people can’t say that. It’s amazing! When our principal calls teachers into her office at the end of the year and asks us what we want to request to teach the following year, there is one class I will never give up - and that’s 8th grade. It’s mainly because of the Sacrament of Confirmation. And I look at you today, 8th grade, and I am so excited for these next few days. And I get to share this special time with each of you and your families...and, again, it’s part of my job. What a blessing! You may not realize it today, tomorrow, or even next year, but this time in your faith is incredibly important. You are making a big step, and we are all so proud. And, for all of us, to gather with our school community of Hill Street once a week for Mass, when I get to be a Eucharistic minister and smile into each of your faces as we share in the Body and Blood of Christ - I wouldn’t trade that for the world. It reminds me that we are all united, we are one, and we are a family. So 3) I love the Mass and the Sacraments.
These are the three things that make me feel strongly in identifying as Catholic first: my upbringing in the Catholic faith, the goal of the Catholic life, and the celebration of Mass and the Sacraments. When I prioritize my life in such a way that faith comes first, the question inevitably changes and becomes instead, How could I NOT work in Catholic education? Catholic education, like our faith, is a gift, and it’s a gift that is best shared lovingly with others.