January 28, 2011

2011 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

A family of faith: Students’ stories show the heart and hope that mark Catholic education

St. Susanna pre-kindergarten students Own Gessner, left, of Plainfield and Taryn Dempsey of Camby put a puzzle together on Aug. 18 at the Catholic school in Plainfield. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

St. Susanna pre-kindergarten students Own Gessner, left, of Plainfield and Taryn Dempsey of Camby put a puzzle together on Aug. 18 at the Catholic school in Plainfield. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

By John Shaughnessy

When she was asked to share one of her favorite moments at her Catholic school, the child recalled her first day there—a day that began with the overwhelming dread and fear of being a new student.

“I stumbled out of the car, and my stomach is flipping and flopping like a fish out of water. It’s my first day of school here at St. Patrick School, and that’s exactly how I feel—a fish out of water.

“I nervously creep through the building and enter our classroom hallway. I’m expecting to see a million people bullying, fighting or picking on each other, just like I’ve known at a public school. But as I enter the hallway, it’s buzzing with hugs and hellos. Someone comes up and asks me if I’m new here. When I nod, we slap a high-five and my stomach unknots.

“That was the first time I had experienced a Catholic school. I’ve been here for three years now. What makes it amazing is that we are a small, fun group, and we act in a Catholic way. We believe that God is always with us, and that fact is clearly established throughout the school. In addition to this, I can focus on my curriculum easily with the small class sizes. Overall, Catholic schools are a great place to be.”

That experience was related by Priya Kirtley, an eighth-grade student at St. Patrick School in Terre Haute. She was among a wealth of students—and even some parents—who responded to The Criterion’s request to share their thoughts and stories about the benefits of an education in a Catholic school.

Here are some other responses.

The right choice

Rick Strack had his own concerns and fears when his son, Adam, became a student at Cardinal Ritter High School in Indianapolis in August of 2009. He worried about how Adam, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, would adapt to high school and how he would be treated by the students.

“I will just tell you one quick story,” Rick Strack noted. “Before classes started last year, Coach Ty Hunt called a football team meeting. In that meeting, he described a young man, Adam, that would be starting as a freshman and explained that he had some challenges that were going to make it difficult for him at first.

“Coach Hunt challenged every member of the football team to make it a personal commitment to watch out for him, help him and to make sure he was taken care of at all times while at school. I had heard that this took place but saw it firsthand on the second day of school when I saw an upperclassman football player and Adam walking down the hall going to Adam’s next class.

“The halls were empty except for those two. The upperclassman dropped Adam off at his classroom door and then hustled back toward me and Paul Lockard [then the president of Cardinal Ritter]. As he approached us, he hesitated because he thought he was in trouble for being in the hallway without a pass. Paul told him he was OK to be where he was and introduced me to the young man as Adam’s father. I shook his hand and thanked him for what he just did for my son.

“I breathed a great sigh of relief, and it was clear to me, at that moment, that we had made the right choice for Adam. He has done very well in his first 1 ½ years of his high school career.”

The Giving Tree

“One of my favorite memories was on Friday, December 10,” recalls Lauren Carr, a seventh-grade student at Christ the King School in Indianapolis. “We had a prayer service to gather our food donations for the Giving Tree. The Giving Tree is a service program that we have at Christ the King where students and parishioners bring in food and gifts for the less fortunate. I felt great to be helping people. During the service, we sang religious songs as a school and divided our food into grocery bags to feed 90 families. This is just one reason I love going to a Catholic school.”

Building a family of faith

“I like going to a Catholic school because I feel a family connection with my classmates,” writes Mary Beth Mattingly, a senior at Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville. “In a Catholic school, I feel as if anyone at anytime can be your neighbor in talking about your faith.

“I have seen a group of high school students at a football game say the Our Father. I have seen a cafeteria of faculty and students alike saying the Hail Mary for a classmate who was in the hospital. And I have seen banners proudly announcing that we believe in God at events outside of school. It is times like these that I see why Catholic education is so great.

“It brings people together, building a community, or a family, that will last a lifetime.”

Supported by the belief of others

Patrick Diehr learned a lesson in faith, friendship and courage when his eighth- grade class at St. Luke School in Indianapolis made a two-day retreat at Camp Rancho Framasa in Nashville, the camp run by the archdiocese’s Catholic Youth Organization.

“I stood in awe as I spied the high-wire challenge that was in the woods,” Patrick recalls. “I had never liked climbing, especially if there were risks or heights involved. As I eyed the overhead cables while our group was learning safety features, I had second ideas about climbing.

“I watched as the first person in our group climbed to the top of the pole to get to the wire. I stayed at the end of the line to go last, possibly to hide my fear. We cheered for all the people tiptoeing across the high wire, to give them encouragement. Eventually everyone in the line had gone, and I was left fearing that I might die. However, I walked up to the ladder, and with cheers from my group, I shakily started the climb.

“About halfway up, I didn’t think I was going to make it another foot. However, my friends encouraged me, and I realized that they knew I could do it. I made it to the top of the pole and across the whole high wire! I was immensely proud that I succeeded, but I realized that without my fellow classmates, I would have never made it. I will always remember that remarkable day when my St. Luke peer group stood there and pushed me on and believed in me.”

A great way to bond

“One of my favorite things that we do during cross country camp are the team meditations we have at the very end of the day,” says Jenna Beckley, a junior at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, a private school in Indianapolis. “First, we light a candle to remind us of God’s presence. Then we say a prayer. We next reflect and share our fears, hopes, goals and support. And lastly, we end with another prayer. It is a great way to bond with our teammates, both emotionally and spiritually.”

The touch of Christ

“Today, I’m going to talk about how I feel about receiving Christ during communion,” writes Lauren Lamberson, a third-grade student at St. Luke School in Indianapolis. “First, I’m singing to God. Then I watch everyone go by to receive Christ. Next, I walk up to receive Christ, feel the breeze beside me, fold my hands, and bow down to Christ. Christ touches my mouth. I slowly swallow the cardboard tasting piece of bread. I hear the choir singing a wonderful song. I sit down in the pew. Then I just think about how lucky I am that I can receive Christ. I can’t wait until I get that feeling again.”

Finding the comfort

One of the best parts of being in a Catholic school for Hannah Singhurse is the comfort she feels in moments of sadness.

“We are allowed to say, ‘It’s OK. God is with you,’ ” notes Hannah, a sixth-grade student at St. Patrick School in Terre Haute. “When I was in first grade, my cousin, Will, died. I was so sad. It was OK, though. Any time I was sad at school, my teacher told me that my cousin was in heaven. This is why I love going to a Catholic school. We can actually talk about our faith.” †

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