January 23, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Students’ letters demonstrate how Catholic schools are a blessing

One of the extraordinary features of the Catholic Church in the United States was the development of our Catholic school system.

The establishment of the Church in Indiana was no different.

From the very beginning, our founding Bishop Simon Bruté and St. Theodora Guérin knew well that Catholic education and religious formation are essential for growth in the faith.

As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week 2009, we continue to underscore the values and importance of our Catholic schools.

In addition to maintaining academic and formational excellence, our pastors, school administrators and teachers know well that it requires dedication and hard work to keep our schools afloat financially.

As a pastor told me recently, it seems so worthwhile when you observe the gift being given to our children and youth. I express our thanks, in the name of all our students, to all of you who support our schools generously and at great sacrifice.

During my bout with cancer toward the end of the last school year, I received notes and homemade cards from countless school children. I responded to many of them, but I discovered one more set that has not been answered.

Second graders from St. Nicholas School in Ripley County, now third graders, had questions and comments that provide another sample of how much they receive in their early elementary education. All of their notes promised prayers for my return to health. I quote several of their additional remarks.

Nathan wrote: “I am glad to go to a Catholic school because we pray a lot. And as you know, we learned cursive writing because I am writing it right now.”

Several students mentioned that cursive handwriting was new to them.

Nicole wrote: “When I get confirmed, I will get to see you. What was your favorite subject when you went to school? …. I love school.”

Several students mentioned looking forward to being confirmed. Reading was my favorite subject. I still love to read.

John included a couple of questions: “Bishop Daniel, is it fun being a bishop? Also, is it hard? We said a rosary in class. We pray every day, do you? How old are you?”

He ended with the comment, “It must be hard being a bishop.”

His note is pretty deep for a second grader, and he must have given some thought about what it means to be a bishop.

Being the pastor of about 300,000 Catholics, not to mention overseeing the needed financial and personnel resources to do ministry, can be a challenge.

But the blessings far outweigh the challenges. I pray a lot. It is a privilege and joy to celebrate the sacraments; for example, confirmation. I think John’s awareness of the rosary at an early age is promising. He asked how old I am. I was 70 last April 20.

Sean also had a question: “Do you get to boss people around?” He added: “I am your friend. I can’t wait until I get confirmed.”

I don’t think of being archbishop as being “boss.” But, in fact, I am. I try to remember the words of ordination: I came “to serve and not to be served.” These words are part of the ordination rite of deacons, priests and bishops.

Eli wrote: “We are learning the parts of the Mass. I am better at reading. I have two brothers.”

For second graders to be learning to understand the Mass is good preparation for first Communion, and also for a life of faith. Being grounded at an early age together with classmates has to be a gift. Sometimes, I think our children and youth are far more able to learn and understand than we might want to expect.

Bill wrote that he can’t wait until he gets confirmed because then “I get a Bible.” I suspect an older sister or brother received a Bible when she or he was confirmed. Bill noticed, and was impressed.

Sarah wrote: “What do you like to do in your free time? Mine is to play with my puppy and friends. We got to learn how to write in cursive. We finished our 10 Commandments.”

Last year’s second graders seemed to receive a good foundation in religion. Obviously, our Catholic schools are able to spend a lot of quality time teaching religion.

Becky wrote that “religion is my hobby.” That’s not a bad hobby for a child in second grade. In answer to the question, when I have free time I love to read.

Claire asked: “How long have you been a priest?” Next May, I will have been ordained 45 blessed years.

I imagine that number will be mind-boggling for a third grader, but it delights me that the priesthood is on her mind.

Our schools are a blessing. †

Local site Links: