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Guest Commentary - Catholic education plays important role

Catholic education plays important role

By Jackie Buchta
Guest Commentary

I'm blessed to be the recipient of a Catholic education from the first through the twelfth grade.

My parents sacrificed greatly to send me and all nine of my siblings to Assumption Grade School and Gross Catholic High School.

I believe that my Catholic education has had a tremendous influence, not only on my choice of profession, and where I choose to practice my profession, but also on who I am. I can't imagine not having gone to a Catholic school, or what my life would be like without it. While my parents did an outstanding job of transmitting the faith to our family, their efforts were greatly enriched by the deep faith of the Notre Dame Sisters, who taught me in grade school, and the Marianists and Franciscans who taught me in high school. I pray, and believe, that we lay teachers, who follow in their footsteps, similarly influence the lives of our students.

Immersion in a culture or situation has been shown to be an effective learning technique. In a Catholic school, the entire culture is based on learning and living Christ's Gospel through His body, the church. Values, it is said, are more "caught" than "taught." Being surrounded for 12 years, or for any amount of time, by Gospel values enhances and magnifies the direct instruction we teachers present in religion class. These values permeate our teaching, whether in religion, science, language arts, or math. Most certainly, they influence our incidental teaching regarding social interaction, as we try to think, and help the children think, at all times, of "What would Jesus do?" We strive to instill reverence for God, for His children and for His world. It's bound to make an impact when a school community is united in that one grand focus.

For my first four years as a teacher, I taught in the Omaha Public Schools. While we have a fine public educational system in Omaha and the surrounding areas, my experience left me feeling that something was missing. With each passing year, I became more and more aware of how dry my teaching felt without being able to infuse it with the values that are most important to me. It was an immense relief to return to a Catholic school, which happened to be Assumption, and to be able to be myself – my whole self, without leaving out that most important Catholic aspect. One of my greatest joys was being able to attend Mass as part of my job.

That's still one of my favorite things about my job, and when I see the young adults who've come through our school volunteer to serve as cantors, lectors and ushers in our parish, I recall the years of practice the teachers, the choir director, the deacons, and the priests put into training the children to serve in various capacities at Mass. Seeing young adults confidently take their places in leadership of worship is a great reward, and I thank our good Lord who works through our humble efforts to instill in them the desire and the ability to serve. None of this would be part of their school experience were it not for the Catholic schools.

I'm certain that we are all aware of statistics that show the educational effectiveness of Catholic schools, and preparing our students well academically is certainly of great importance. Yet the leadership skills, and the willingness to serve are very important, too. Our students frequently go into high school, and then on to college, and the world of business, as standouts among their peers. In the years that our two older sons graduated from Gross, I happened across copies of the South High student newspaper. Listed in it were outstanding student leaders in fields ranging from academics to athletics, and from journalism to fine arts. I was astounded to find a high percentage of those leaders were Assumption alumni, when our alumni make up a miniscule percentage of the overall South High student body. I also observed that other leaders were from other Catholic grade schools. This rather small and unscientific sample nonetheless leads me to believe that this same phenomenon holds true for other schools in other parts of the city. This may also indicate that when our students do leave us to enter the broader world, whether that be high school, college, or the world of work, that they carry with them the qualities that make them good leaders and good citizens.

Additionally, the "catholicity" – the "universality" – of our faith, and thus our schools enables, I believe, our students to be better citizens of the world community. They know that "we are one body – one body in Christ, and we do not stand alone." They know that when one member of the body suffers, we all suffer with it, and that when one member of the body rejoices, we all rejoice with it. I see this on a small scale in the second grade, where already the students show this type of care and concern for one another. I see it when our student body can pray at Mass in English, but can beautifully sing the Lord's Prayer, and other songs of worship in Spanish, or a Communion meditation hymn in Czech. They know that in whichever language the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered, we are saving and doing the same thing. They know, by extension, that wherever in the world they walk into a Catholic church, the tabernacle candle will be burning because Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament, and if they happen to attend Mass in the Czech Republic, or Mexico, or Nigeria, or China, they would all be doing the very same thing.

They know what it is to support a mission child with their pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and dollars, and to put money into the collection basket to help a community member who is ill, or a family who lost loved ones in a fire, or, through an agency, those we may not know personally, but whose needs we can help to meet. While the public schools can, and do, offer opportunities for community service, they cannot say that we do this out of love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. They cannot say that we extend mercy because God, through Christ, has extended mercy to us. They cannot say that we do this because God has commanded us to, and that to those whom much has been given, much will be expected. What, then, is their motivation? The good humanity? Important, yes, but, to me, it doesn't seem to be as deep, as moving, as compelling. Thank God for our Catholic schools!

And in thanking God for our Catholic schools, I would be greatly remiss if I did not, in closing, thank all of you who support our schools. We are not all called to be teachers, nor do we all have the means to make large financial contributions to Catholic schools. Thankfully, in God's good providence, all of the parts of the body work together to meet the need for Catholic education. I say the need, not the desire, for we, as individuals, need Catholic education, the Catholic community needs Catholic education, the city, the state, the nation, and the world need Catholic education.

May God richly bless you who give of your time, talent, and treasure to Catholic schools, and may you continue to do so, and encourage others to join us in this valuable endeavor. May Christ's peace reign in your hearts and minds, and may you be filled with the joy of serving Him and His people.

Jackie Butcha is a teacher at Assumption Grade School in Omaha.

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