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Faith is the foundation of Catholic schools


The Catholic faith.

It's the guiding principle for Catholic schools and what sets them apart from all other schools across the country, according to administrators, teachers and students who walk the halls and sit in the classrooms.

Faith is reflected in religion classes and weekday Masses, in prayers said throughout the day, in the way children treat one another, approach subjects from math and science to literature and music, and in the way they serve their communities. Catholic schools also provide a supportive environment for students of other faiths.

"Academic subjects are viewed in the context of God's revelation and truth, and members of school communities are called to live in accordance with Gospel values, treating one another with love and mutual respect," said Msgr. James Gilg, superintendent of the Archdiocese of Omaha's 73 Catholic schools.

During this year's Catholic Schools Week celebrations - Jan. 29 through Feb. 5 - students in the archdiocese and across the nation will celebrate the many ways faith influences their learning and their willingness to serve.

The National Catholic Educational Association headlines faith in the 2012 Catholic Schools Week theme: "Catholic Schools - Faith. Academics. Service."

Msgr. Gilg said every Catholic school gives the highest priority to teaching Catholic doctrine and morals. In religion classes, they learn about God, the teachings of the Catholic Church and how to live their faith.

But a faith-based education isn't limited to religion classes, he said. It is part of all school activities inside and outside the classroom. And there is an emphasis on celebrating faith through Catholic liturgies, the sacraments and devotional practices, he said.

Maggie Findall, a senior at Roncalli Catholic High School in Omaha, said she attended a public elementary school, and finds that at Roncalli Catholic she feels more comfortable talking about her faith while in school.

"You don't have to divide your religion from the rest of your life," she said. "You don't have to say, 'Oh, I can't talk about that right now. That's separate.' It's integrated, so your faith is just part of who you are throughout your entire day."

During the school day, she sees crucifixes, religious statues, portraits of Jesus and the school chapel. Students stress being kind to one another in the halls, she said.

"People understand that while they might not like certain people, they need to be kind to them because it's part of our faith."

School-sponsored food and clothing drives and requiring student service hours take on more meaning through faith, and having to write reflection papers on the service hours helps her think more about reaching out to others, Findall said.

Scott Olson, head teacher and the fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at St. Leonard School in Madison, said his students work hard to respect and help one another. Those qualities stem from what they've been taught about what Jesus expects from his followers, he said.

"We can talk about how faith relates to helping others and how our ultimate goal is to get to heaven, so the works of knowledge and skill and how we apply ourselves to others are all related to the goal of getting to heaven," Olson said.

Faith also helps when students need to be disciplined, he said.

"We don't have very many discipline problems, but when we do, teachers usually have a discussion with students about their behavior and students usually can tell the teacher what the appropriate behavior should have been," he said.

Teachers can ask students, "What would Jesus do?" or bring up biblical verses such as Ephesians 4:32, that refer to being kind to one another, compassionate and forgiving, Olson said.

Marianne Hall puts faith into her music classes at Holy Cross School in Omaha by teaching her students liturgical hymns, spiritual songs and religious Christmas music, as well as the biblical origins of many musical pieces.

"Music touches the soul, and much of the music that I use tries to uplift the students to a relationship to the Lord," said Hall, who has been teaching at the school for 31 years. "The eighth grade studies contemporary Christian music so they can see an alternative to pop music. And when we study composers, we can bring up their faith and how it influenced their music."

Nathan Pribnow, a math and physical science teacher at Archbishop Bergan Catholic High School in Fremont, said he decided to teach in a Catholic school because he wanted to work with administrators, teachers and students who share his religious beliefs.

"It is reassuring to know that the message students are receiving from the Bible is the same message they are receiving from their teachers every day," he said.

Pribnow said faith discussions come up most frequently in his classroom when they are studying the creation of the earth.

"I focus more on how we need both science and religion for everything to make sense and how they work hand in hand," Pribnow said. "Without God the idea of a big bang theory doesn't even make sense."

He said he tries to be honest and forgiving with students and teach the faith by example.

"I try to teach lessons about how to become a better person and how we need to live our lives in the model of Jesus Christ," he said. "Rather than yell at students and punish them for wrongdoing, I try to help them better themselves by looking at better ways to live our lives."

Every generation of Catholics has to educate and nurture the next generation in religious knowledge and practice, Msgr. Gilg said. Catholic schools help parents ensure this happens, he said.

Pribnow agreed.

"We are committed to teaching the 'entire' child, with faith at the very center."

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