June 6, 2008

High school graduates say Catholic education is at heart of who they are

(Submitted photos; graphic design by Ann Sternberg)

(Submitted photos; graphic design by Ann Sternberg)

(Editor’s note: Before their graduations from Catholic high schools across the archdiocese, several students were asked to share their thoughts about how Catholic education has shaped their lives. Here are their stories.)

By John Shaughnessy

Ask Tricia Schutz what she has gained from her 13 years of Catholic education and she sums it up in a sentence she heard repeatedly at a heartbreaking time in her life.

“If you need anything, I’m here.”

The words came from classmates, friends, teachers and neighbors after Tricia’s younger brother died in 2001.

“I saw God working in others,” says Tricia, 18, a recent graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis who also attended kindergarten through eighth grade at St. Jude School in Indianapolis.

“I would go to school and it was a haven. People looked out for me. If I needed to leave the room or pray, I could do that and not get into trouble. People came to our house. They sent cards and offered Mass intentions. My friends and classmates and teachers came to the funeral and said, ‘If you need anything, I’m here.’ ”

She has adopted that approach to life.

“I’ve gone back to St. Jude and worked on confirmation retreats for eighth graders and incoming freshmen. It’s a way to give back to the parish and the community that have given me so much,” Tricia says. “My Catholic education has formed the person I am. I have a stronger faith in God now. You learn more than what you get in Mass on Sunday. We can see our faith every day, and Jesus every day, through others.”

Living the dream

At 18, Eric Amador doesn’t talk much about the hardships that could have easily derailed his future. Instead, he focuses on the fact that he will be the first person in his family to attend college thanks to two scholarships he has earned.

He also believes that dream wouldn’t have been possible without his Catholic education at Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis.

“I’ve been going to a Catholic school my whole life,” says Eric, who also attended the former All Saints School in Indianapolis for eight years. “Financial problems are something we struggled with. It reached the point before my senior year where we couldn’t afford Ritter. I love Ritter with my whole heart. The fact that I possibly wasn’t able to go to Ritter caused a lot of anger and issues for me.”

Then he remembered one of the beliefs he learned about God in Catholic schools.

“A lot of the teaching is about how God is always there for us, how he never gives us more than we can bear,” Eric says. “That brought light to my time of darkness.”

In the summer before his senior year, Eric worked 20 hours a week at Ritter. He also worked a full-time job at a sandwich shop—all to raise the money he needed to finish his four years at Ritter.

“Catholic education has meant to me a true home,” Eric says. “It has my siblings, which are my classmates. It has my guardians, which are the faculty and staff. And it has that closeness that only a family can share. And it has values that create a better person.”

Lessons in faith and acceptance

For Melissa “Missy” Bullock, two moments show the way her Catholic education has shaped her as a person. Both moments taught her lessons in acceptance.

The first moment came when she volunteered to help an autistic classmate during her seventh- and eighth-grade years at St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) School in Indianapolis.

“It was the most rewarding thing,” says Missy, 18, who recently graduated from Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis. “I couldn’t lose my temper or get angry at him. He was really sensitive. It felt really good that he relied on me and I mattered to him. Now, I wouldn’t be afraid to help anyone with a disability.”

She even plans to become a special education teacher.

The second moment came in October of 2007 when one of her best friends from Scecina—Joe Ajamie—died suddenly from a brain aneurysm.

“If it wasn’t for my faith, I don’t know how I would have dealt with it,” she says. “He was a really, really good friend to everyone. He was always the person I could tell everything. A lot of people were looking to me as to how to act. At first, it was really hard, but I understand he’s with God and Jesus in a better place. And I still talk to him whenever I want. My faith let me accept it and help others. It helped me get through how hard it was.”

Shouting and screaming at God

For Katie Orberson, her 13 years of Catholic education have led to a deeper relationship with God and a deeper appreciation of her purpose in life. They have also included a time when she shouted and screamed at God.

That moment happened during the summer before her freshman year at Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville. She reacted with fear and anger when her parents left on a mission trip to the Middle East and she stayed with her grandparents.

“I thought I’d never see my parents again,” recalls Katie, 18, who also attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in New Albany from kindergarten through eighth grade.

“I struggled with my relationship with God. I shouted and screamed at him. Then I just relinquished control. From my faith and my formation, I remembered that it wasn’t me who could bring my parents back. Only God could. I just realized I had to do what I was taught—to stop worrying, pray for my parents and put my trust in God. I wrote a letter to God every day. Then I found peace.”

She also found a commitment to putting her faith in action, similar to her parents. Because of her request, her family of five has participated in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., the past two years.

“Everyone in the family went,” Katie says. “I was passionate about it. I think I forced my parents to do it.”

This summer, she will leave home for a mission trip to New Orleans.

“My faith truly defines who I am.”

Building a relationship with God

For seniors in Catholic high schools, the senior retreat can represent the culmination of all their years of Catholic education—a time to take the lessons of faith to a deeper level so they will continue to have meaning in the future.

For Chris Zabriskie, his senior retreat at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis also coincided with the sixth anniversary of the death of his mother to cancer.

“Immediately after my mother passed away, I couldn’t cry,” says Chris, 18. “Going through retreat at that time, I truly felt sad. But it made me feel a little better, too.”

It also made him think about the faith his parents have given him.

“I remember growing up, we always had a dinner prayer, always said prayers before going to bed and we did morning prayers before school. It was a way to connect with our family and a way to grow spiritually.”

After his mother’s death, he began the journey of making his parents’ faith his own.

“A lot of times we don’t understand what God has planned for us,” says Chris, who also attended St. Pius X School in Indianapolis. “What we want isn’t always going to be what he wants. I had to learn that you have to move on. I’ve gone through different things and he’s helped me.

“My motto is to live as best I can. I try to use the values I learned from my parents—to be respectful, to not judge, to find the good in anything. I feel the good I try to do for other people is a way of God speaking through me. And that’s my way of connecting with him.”

Like many graduating seniors, Chris counts on the lessons of his Catholic faith and education to guide him in the next chapter of his life.

“With all I’ve been through, I think God has plans for me in the future. I just don’t know what they are yet. I think you never stop building a relationship with God.” †

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