Catholic Schools Week

“Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.” This is the theme of Catholic Schools Week this year. 

Our Catholic schools in the Diocese of Fall River help the children entrusted to them to learn about how Christ loves them and calls them to love Him. They express that love for Christ in the various ways in which they serve Him, directly in prayer and in service to their neighbors (imitating the great examples of service and sacrifice which they see around them — in the faculties and staff who make financial sacrifices to serve the students; in their parents and families who sacrifice other benefits so as to send their children to Catholic schools; in the thousands of people across the diocese who “put their money where their mouths are” by making generous contributions to our Catholic schools). As retired principal Cecilia Felix told the New Bedford Standard-Times last June, our teachers “believe in Catholic ed and have faith; they’re not here for the money.”

The children learn what it means to truly lead in our Catholic schools. They hear Christ’s Words to His disciples at the Last Supper, after He lowered Himself to wash their feet: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:15). The students come to learn that leading is not about domination, but about lifting up others, so that they can experience the dignity that God gave them when they were created.

Success for a Catholic school child ultimately comes many years, many decades after graduating from the school. It comes when Christ says to them, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come, share your Master’s joy” (Mt 25:23). This is not easy to gauge in this world — but we can see signs of our children’s success in their becoming adults actively living out their faith, transmitting that faith to their children (be they their own biological children, their Godchildren, or the children they have been called by God to have a Spiritual paternal or maternal relationship with, as a religious or member of the clergy). In other words, a Catholic education is an investment of the community for “the long haul,” an investment which can bear fruit over many decades, if done right.

On page 10, Dr. Helen Flavin noted about one of her Catholic high school students, “The entire story was an example of God’s plan revealed in God’s time.” Our Catholic educators work to help the children entrusted to them to discover God’s individual plans for them and help them to have the tools that they need to live out this plan of love.

The Diocese of Fall River is blessed to have so many people dedicated to its Catholic schools. In this edition of The Anchor you can read about them in articles beginning on pages four and 16. Sister Mary Jane Holden, profiled on page 16, summarizes very well the communal effort that Catholic schools are. “Any success that we’ve achieved, we achieved it together. I mean the faculty has been so responsive and willing to move along as things have changed. [W]hen we saw the need for the addition to the school, the parents got together and we were able to pay that off within three years, without having to borrow a cent from the diocese. It’s just a wonderful community of people who help out and I couldn’t say enough about all of the people who have shared in the responsibility for the success of the school.”

Matthew Ferreira, a Standard-Times staff writer, wrote about Miss Felix in that paper when she retired. What he said about her is so true about so many of our Catholic educators: “Miss Felix and her Catholic faith are inseparable. It’s at the root of who she is and she made that apparent in her expectations of us. This at times resulted in rules that were considered by some to be heavy-handed, for instance, forbidding the doodling of popular music groups’ names or emblems on notebooks, backpacks and any other medium ’90s kids used to express themselves at school. Not everyone liked these kinds of rules, including some parents, but where some in her position might have seen battles not worth picking, Miss Felix saw glaring contradictions to the Christian values she’d been entrusted to uphold. So, as important as it was to 13-year-old me for everyone who glanced at my book covers to know I listened to DMX, 32-year-old me has nothing but respect for how Miss Felix stood her ground on things that mattered to her.”

David Brooks in the New York Times recently praised effective teachers (“Students learn from people they love,” Jan. 18, 2019). He discussed recent studies which found that when teachers establish a friendly, emotional connection with their students, it is much easier for the student to learn (of course, Christ the Teacher demonstrated this best, in His three years in which the Apostles lived with Him and got to experience His love for them firsthand).

Brooks noted, “Think of all the emotions that are involved in mastering a hard subject like algebra: curiosity, excitement, frustration, confusion, dread, delight, worry and, hopefully, perseverance and joy. You’ve got to have an educated emotional vocabulary to maneuver through all of those stages.” 

Brooks’ insight helps to explain why students from Catholic schools often outperform children from other schools. It is not just the discipline (although that helps). It is the loving sacrifice of the teachers for the students. The students know that this adult thinks that they (the children) are important, that their education is worth this adult’s sacrificing material gain so that someone might grow closer to Christ. So, the students are able to do better in Religion class and in math or another secular subject, because they know that the teacher is invested in the material and in them.

Let us do all that we can to help our children learn, serve, lead and succeed.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts