January 26, 2007

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Lasting influence: A Catholic education touches lives at pivotal times

The Kelley family learned the true gifts of Catholic education during a heartbreaking time in their lives. Dana and Joe Kelley pose with their daughters, Meagan, Claire, Kate, Natalie and Beth, in their home at Christmas in 2006. (Submitted photo)

The Kelley family learned the true gifts of Catholic education during a heartbreaking time in their lives. Dana and Joe Kelley pose with their daughters, Meagan, Claire, Kate, Natalie and Beth, in their home at Christmas in 2006. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Dana Kelley knows the lasting influence of a Catholic education.

She’s seen it touch her life as a daughter, a mother and a wife during one of the most difficult and heartbreaking periods she has ever experienced.

She’s seen that lasting influence in the generous, faith-filled way that people responded to her and her family during that critical time in her life.

“I think as a parent you send your children to a Catholic school not just because you want them to learn the four ‘Rs’ but because you want them to learn values,” notes Kelley, a member of St. Luke Parish in Indianapolis. “Strong values that will root them their entire lives, that teach what Jesus would want them to do in many situations. You don’t get that at a public school. What our friends did was what Jesus would have done.”

Kelley expressed those thoughts after The Criterion invited readers to share their stories about how Catholic education has made an impact on their lives.

We are grateful for all the people who responded to our request. As a sampling of that response, here is Kelley’s story and the story of three other Catholics who have seen their lives and their family’s life forever changed by Catholic education.

Heartbreak, faith and folded laundry

“Our journey began in July of 2005 when my husband’s father was diagnosed with cancer,” Dana Kelley says. “He was given a few months to live, but unfortunately died on Sept. 17, 2005. The week prior to his death, he was in the hospital. Having five girls—four at St. Luke’s and one in preschool at the time—I was doing a lot of juggling as my husband, Joe, and I were going back and forth to the hospital.

“This is when our extended St. Luke School family sprung into action. We received many wonderful meals and lots of help with the girls. But the thing that I remember the most is my St. Luke girlfriends coming to our home and simply folding the piles of laundry I had in the house. I still feel the physical and mental relief after coming home to folded laundry and a picked-up house. This was lesson one in our family’s Catholic education.

“I wish the story could have stopped there. The following April, Joe was diagnosed with testicular cancer. What followed was an unbelievable whirlwind. He had surgery the following week and would then have to have radiation after a four-week recovery period.

“The Friday after his surgery, we received the good news that the cancer was contained and had not spread to his lymph nodes. He still had to go through radiation, but the doctors considered this a ‘bump in the road.’ My joy was tempered, however, because that same day I received the news that my father had pancreatic cancer and I knew that was a terminal diagnosis. He was also in Illinois.

“At this point, choices were going to have to be made. My husband was going to be OK, but the recovery was going to be slow. Joe needed me, but I knew my Dad’s days on this earth were limited so I also needed to see him as much as I could. That’s when I put all pride and perfection aside and called my St. Luke girlfriends and asked for help. I knew I couldn’t take care of my husband and say goodbye to my father without them.

“The ‘girls’ from St. Luke went into action. Meals were organized, rides were found and our girls always had a place to go when I had to leave town. My dad died within four weeks of his diagnosis. During that time, I would leave to see him often with only hours notice and these women didn’t flinch, didn’t complain, didn’t seem annoyed. They just helped and eased my burden.

“These mothers all taught their children by example and lived the values taught at a Catholic school. I am forever grateful and humbled by what was done for our family. God puts you in a place you need to be. For us, it is St. Luke School and the extended family that is.”

From jump ropes to a convent visit

As a teacher, Jane Vande Water often reflects on the role models she watched growing up as a student in the Catholic school system in Madison. From jump rope to a visit to the convent, here are some of the memories that have touched her life, memories that she also shared with The Madison Courier.

“I was in first grade at the old St. Michael’s school downtown,” Vande Water notes. “We played in a fenced-in area known as ‘the pig pen.’ I remember how shocked and delighted we were when Sister Cyril, complete in long, black habit, jumped rope with us one day at recess. We thought she must be about 100 years old, but she showed us that she could enjoy what we enjoyed. Thank you, Sister, for teaching me to play with the children in my classes.

“In second grade, I had Sister Salvadore. From her, I learned to see the whole child—not just the student sitting in a desk. I remember having to stay in at recess because I was sick and Sister needed something from home. Since the sisters lived in the house next to St. Michael’s, she asked me to walk over there with her. I couldn’t believe that teachers, let alone nuns, lived in a house with a kitchen and a living room.

“This shocking revelation gave me the courage to ask if the nuns had to shave their heads, as we could see no evidence of hair. I remember Sister laughing and pulling a lock of hair out from under her veil to prove to me that nuns didn’t have shaved heads. Thank you, Sister Salvadore, for making me appreciate the questions that children ask.

“In fourth grade, Mrs. Colussi allowed me to argue. I must confess that sometimes I argued just for the sake of the argument. Thank you, Mrs. Colussi, for teaching me that there is more than one side to every issue.”

Vande Water, who teaches in Kentucky, also thanks other grade school teachers for teaching her the importance of requiring discipline, reading aloud to children and doing projects with her students. She then focused on the influence of her high school teachers.

“Mrs. Horton, thank you for teaching me to enjoy what I do, and to do what I enjoy.

“Father Lawler, thank you for teaching me to challenge myself with high expectations.

“Sister Thomasita, thank you for teaching me to enjoy math and manipulating numbers. The greatest thing you taught me, which I teach my children, is to draw a picture to solve word problems.”

She ends her tribute with this thought: “I hope that I will continue to use the lessons taught to me by these great teachers. Thank you for all that you did. I believe it is true that when you teach, you touch lives forever. I was lucky to be touched by you.”

Searching for, and finding, an anchor

When a family tragedy touches a child’s life, the child often searches for another anchor to give his or her life a sense of stability. Mark Tarpey of Indianapolis recalls how he needed that anchor—and found it—when he was 5.

“I began 16 years of continuous Catholic education in September of 1954 at Our Lady of Lourdes School on the east side of Indianapolis,” Tarpey recalls. “My father had died suddenly of a heart attack in January of 1954. My mother was to raise four children ranging in age from 5 (myself) to 15. Catholic schooling provided some needed consistency in my life at that time.

“My Catholic education with the Sisters of St. Francis, as well as dedicated lay teachers, continued at Scecina High School and finally Marian College.

“When I look back at my 16 years of Catholic education, I am reminded of the wonderful lessons of life that were imparted in so many ways. The constant reminders of the importance of faith. The importance of helping those who are less fortunate. Of using the gifts that God has given you to improve the lives of others, which include family friends as well as those strangers in need of kindness.”

Handling the bumps in the road of life

Jean Allen noticed the sacrifices her parents made to give her a Catholic education.

She also sees the difference that education has made in her life.

“I was fortunate enough to have 12 years of a Catholic education,” says Allen, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Corydon. “My parents made a lot of sacrifices to give all six of their children this privilege. For that, I’ve always been thankful. I had nuns as teachers and they were strict, but my Catholic education was well-taught.

“I was brought up in a loving, hard-working Christian home. We, as a family, said our prayers and faithfully said the rosary. My Mom always said, ‘A family that prays together stays together.’ And she was right. We all stuck together and helped each other, no matter what the bumps were in the road.

“So my Catholic education further laid my background. It taught me how to be a strong person, to always put God in your life and faithfully always thank him for all he does.” †


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