January 26, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Catholic education is an integral part of our Church’s mission

My elementary education began in the Boeckelman School, a one-room, eight-grade county school just outside of Jasper, Ind. The teacher was my mom’s brother, Uncle Adam Blessinger.

I remember that there was a “recitation bench” where students took turns by grade level for the lesson of the day. The rest of the students were busy doing assignments or, as I recall, practicing handwriting at a blackboard on one side of the room.

Religious education for those of us in county schools was held on Saturday mornings at St. Joseph School. The Sisters of Providence were our catechists. Sister Dorothy Louise prepared me for first Communion.

Sometime before third grade, the pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Msgr. Leonard Wernsing, suggested to my parents that it might be time to transfer my brother and me to St. Joseph School. From then on, my elementary education was provided by the Sisters of Providence.

From third grade onward, I became familiar with Mother Theodore Guérin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence. I was proud to learn that St. Joseph School in Jasper was the first of a number of elementary schools founded by St. Theodora.

I am indebted to the Sisters of Providence for the education they gave me. I was well prepared for later educational opportunities in preparation for the priesthood. I also realize that my Uncle Adam had prepared me well in the primary grades. I had no difficulties after I was transferred to St. Joseph School. I was well served by both the county school and St. Joseph School.

As I think about the transfer, I recall being a bit intimidated by the size of St. Joseph’s student body. It was most apparent to me at the morning recess and during the lunch hour when we were all out on the playground.

I have the clear memory of two of my new classmates taking me by the hand and making sure I was included in the fun and games. With hindsight, I suspect Sister Ann Denise asked them to look after the new kid. In any case, I remember my gratitude and relief. It didn’t take long before I felt like I belonged.
I recall a humorous incident during third grade. I was elected vice president of our classroom. That evening, I reported to my mom that I had been elected wise president. She explained the reality.

We attended daily Mass in the awesome St. Joseph Church. Our behavior was closely monitored by the sisters. Again, with hindsight, I can see that we were well prepared for the Eucharist in an age-appropriate manner.

My first personal invitation to consider a vocation to the priesthood came from my fourth-grade teacher, Sister Marie Annette. I wasn’t too interested at the time, but her invitation stayed with me.

I reflect on my early years of education in order to make a point as we observe Catholic Schools Week 2007. Granted that my elementary education dates back some 50 years, much of the value I derived from those early formative years is alive and vibrant in our Catholic schools today.

Truly, the world is radically different. Our secularized culture with its preoccupation on materialistic values is exceedingly challenging on all fronts. Not only are spiritual and moral values more and more countercultural, but the project of solid academic education is also challenged.

Public and private schools alike cope with student bodies that have personal, social and psychological needs that affect the learning process. There has always been the element of peer pressure in our schools, but the current materialistic and permissive cultural behavior has become more prevalent and influential.

All of our teachers and educational administrators deserve our respect and support for the added challenges that are part of elementary and secondary education these days. One need only look at the available testing data to recognize that our Catholic school teachers are doing a splendid job for our children. We can be truly grateful.

I take this opportunity also to express appreciation to the many benefactors who assist our Catholic schools with time, talent and treasure. Maintaining our schools and doing so with quality is hard work. And it is expensive. None of us should take this for granted.

And we need to keep in focus the fact that Catholic education is an integral part of our Church’s mission. I hope and pray that the day will come when we can provide even more opportunities for more of our children to be beneficiaries of our efforts.

Catholic schools are not an option for many of us. For these, we depend on our Catholic faith formation programs to provide the specifically religious part of our educational mission. For catechists and religious education administrators, we also owe a debt of gratitude.†

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