Curious Minds Wonder about Catholic Education

Celebrating Catholic Schools Week 2022 with a Long-Winded Open Notes Tribute

As a freshman in high school, I received a phone call from a mom with whom I was somewhat familiar.  I didn’t really know her daughter, but her name was Dawn, and she was a year younger than me. The family was contemplating a move to my Catholic high school.  They had a lot of questions and pre-conceived notions and worries about Catholic schools, yet they were drawn.  Some were correct, by the way, and some of their assumptions and concerns were utterly without merit.  It was the first time I received such an inquiry, but the next year, a similar call followed from a long-time family friend.  That trend has continued almost non-stop throughout my life.  I was 15 then, and I’m 50 now.  That’s a lot of years of clarifying, explaining, and offering my two cents.

Pandemic experiences have rendered many folks a touch fragile. Worries about our children, their mental health, and the quality of the education they are receiving are absolute reasonable, in my view.  This has led to me to many more conversations than usual on this topic.  Here are some recent parent questions I thought were especially interesting, and the answers I have shared.  These are merely one gal’s personal perspective, mind you.  However, as this year’s Catholic Schools Week has largely been spent snowed in, it seemed a good way to honor both the phenomenal educators and the faith tradition I hold dear to share these in a more open format. 

Q.  How much time do the kids spend on religion classes, mass and stuff like that?  I guess I’m worried they won’t get all the skills they need.

A. You’re not asking the real question. You already know the education is solid or you wouldn’t be considering a move. What you’re asking yourself is, “How Catholic is it?” There are other options if what you want is a private education. Do you want a faith-based education for your child? Do you want them in an atmosphere that is saturated with the Catholic faith all day long, everyday? Kindness, charity, service, prayer, faith formation and intentional discipleship are at the heart of Catholic schools. Also, you should show up for one of those masses you’re worried about. They will cleanse your soul and renew your spirit with a wholesomeness you had forgotten existed. Have you ever heard or seen 750 kids singing worship music, at the top of their lungs like they’re at a rock concert? You have to see it to believe it, but it will melt your heart.

Student section fun at the football game this fall.

Q. I’ve heard Catholic Schools are just really over the top with rules and I wonder if my son will be frustrated?

A.  Heck yes, your son will be frustrated at times.  He maybe won’t like having to wear khakis with a belt, and he definitely won’t like the no hoodie rule, and he’ll be annoyed that he’s required to do 30 hours of community service.  But do you know what you’ll like?  The same guy who sent him to detention because he didn’t have a belt on is likely to also be the guy who notices he needs a little extra love because he’s struggling with self-doubt, or a family situation.  His guidance counselor will know his name and will ask him how football season is going for him when she spots him in the hall.  The music teacher will notice he’s great with younger students and share that with the Campus minister one afternoon and before you know it he will be helping to lead a retreat group, or tutoring a struggling freshman in math.  Catholic schools are big on accountability and bigger on love.  Students and teachers in this kind of environment are encouraged and empowered to express their care and concern for one another in a way they simply cannot do in other schools.  The public schools in our area are phenomenal in many ways, but in a school that has winter break instead of Christmas break, Christian community isn’t part of the equation. Here, everywhere they turn they will find prayerful support.  Faith is alive in the hallways.  So, are there a lot of rules?  Sure there are.  He’ll live.  He’ll learn.  He’ll grow.

Q. What is your favorite thing about the Catholic School experience?

A. The community of faith-filled people!  Let me explain.  My mom is an incredible, caring human being. She was an amazing grade schoolteacher—a Golden Apple Award winner!!  I know she made a huge difference in the lives of her public school students and I am so proud of her.  That said, she never took her class to the chapel and skipped math class for the day because one of her 4th graders had a mom who was terminally ill and the youngster needed to be prayerfully supported.  Here’s another example.  My son and his high school tennis team gathered a couple hundred others and after school one day last fall, they prayed the rosary together at the grotto for their tennis coach who was in Boston to remove cancer from his brain.  The friends that surrounded my children throughout their school experiences were amazing kids and had families who were like-minded.  We knew they were safe in each other’s care.  Many of those folks remain our closest friends to this day.  That Christian community is one of our greatest blessings! 

Q.  What is your least favorite thing about the Catholic School experience?

A.  It’s expensive.  It’s also PRICELESS.

LET US THANK ALL THOSE WHO TEACH IN CATHOLIC SCHOOLS.  EDUCATING IS AN ACT OF LOVE; IT IS LIKE GIVING LIFE.  – Pope Francis

I hope in these questions and answers you will hear authenticity and genuine gratitude for my Catholic faith and the amazing gift of Catholic education in my own life and that of my children.  Its value is inestimable. If you’ve played a part in the Catholic School experience of our family as a teacher, pastor, administrator, or friend…THANK YOU! We love you.

Lastly.  The fine print.

I was asked (in a grocery store checkout line) to “qualify myself” on the matter of Catholic education.  So, for the sake of a stranger named Scott, any anyone else who cares to know, here’s my resume.

I am the product of 12 years of Catholic school.  I attended grade school (1st-8th grades) at St. Lawrence Catholic School, followed by 4 years at Central Catholic High School—all in Lafayette, Indiana.  My husband, Tom and I met in high school.  He attended grade school at nearby St. Mary’s and middle school at St. Boniface in downtown Lafayette, before I met him at LCC.  We have three sons, ages 24, 22, and 17.  Next year when our youngest, Zach, graduates from Guerin Catholic High School, that will conclude 40 (individual) school years of tuition payments. Whew!  St. Louis de Montfort Catholic School in Fishers, IN graced our family with 24 of those blessed school years, twelve will have occurred at Guerin Catholic, and four were logged by Nick (our oldest) at Xavier University in Cincinnati. Nick now lives in Cincy and works for Fifth Third Bank. Drew, who is 22, graduated early from Purdue University and will finish his master’s degree in May before starting his career with a local accounting firm in Indianapolis. Zach, 17, will be a senior at Guerin Catholic in the fall of 2022. Someday, I’m hoping they bring me armloads of grandchildren to babysit, but for today, I’ll settle for someone to help me shovel the snow out of the driveway. Be safe out there, everyone! –ST

Hail, Holy Queen

I’ve always been drawn to the Blessed Mother. Even as a little girl, I remember stopping outside the church doors on my way to my grandparents house when the organist was practicing. She often played “Hail, Holy Queen Enthroned Above” which I found magical. I didn’t quite understand how the fullness of the Lord’s love for us was revealed in this one incredible woman at that time. However, I intuited beauty and peace.

A couple years ago, my pastor implored me to familiarize myself with the Memorare. It’s a prayer which calls on the Blessed Mother for her powerful intercession. It quickly made its way into my prayer lexicon, and now I consider it a favorite for its efficaciousness. If you’re still reading this, I’ve likely prayed it for you and your intentions or needs. So, this is me admitting I’m kind of a Mary freak alongside my Jesus girl tendencies. It sort of makes sense. After all, we can learn a lot about anyone by looking at their mother, am I right?

Last week, a lovely Christian friend confided that she just was made aware of a Catholic Holy Day she had never heard of previously. Now, I should share that this woman is incredibly kind and also not a Catholic. She spoke candidly to me, “Shelly, I don’t get it. How is all this Mary stuff supposed to help us humans? I mean I like you and my Catholic friends are good people, but I just don’t get the point of the Assumption, or just your whole obsession with Mary.”

I’m thankful she felt comfortable to ask, and also that I have smart people to lean on who explain things better than me! I gave her a great video by Bishop Robert Barron on Mary. And also, I shared the following personal thoughts.

I told her that Mary, in her heavenly glory, reminds us that this life isn’t our end game. We are aiming higher, for a glorious forever home in eternity. We have to live with our eyes fixed beyond the here and now, and on the beauty of heaven.

This reality is so darn helpful at this moment in time. That’s because the stresses and anxieties of today, then, can’t be permitted to overwhelm us. We’re human and we foul this up sometimes, but we need to look to the example of Our Blessed Mother. That means, we can’t allow the craziness of this world to steal our peace.

The Assumption of Mary (Guido Reni, 1642)

Pope Benedict said, “The luminous sign of Our Lady taken up into Heaven shines out even more brightly when sad shadows of suffering and violence seem to loom on the horizon. We may be sure of it: from on high, Mary follows our footsteps with gentle concern, dispels the gloom in moments of darkness and distress, reassures us with her motherly hand.”

What a beautiful explanation of the Assumption, and the wonderful intercessor we have in Mary!

I hope I helped my friend understand just a little bit more about the reason I love so fiercely the Mother of Our Lord. If not her, maybe one of you…but I’ll leave those outcomes to grace.

Have a great week everyone, and if you find yourself at low ebb, call on Mary. What do you have to lose by giving her a shout out? Just saying. Worth a shot?

Queen of Heaven…Pray for Us!!

On Prayer, and Cheating at Euchre

Remote though the likelihood may be of you having either the time or inclination to hear out the ramblings of one rather insignificant and sinful soul, I find myself humbly submitting to the world this little entry about my Dad and asking you to stick it out, all the same.  Frankly, I’d greatly prefer to never have written this post, most especially not on Mother’s Day weekend.  However, it’s my sincere belief that the Lord expects my obedience in this matter, so I’ll delay no further.

Before I get to the reason for the post, I want to share a couple of moments from my childhood.

I was an Indian Princess as a kid.  Dad named me “Blue Water” for the color of my eyes, and my sister and I named him “Hungry Bear”.  I don’t remember a lot about the Indian Princesses, to be candid.  However, I remember it was delightfully different from all the other activities we did.  What differentiated it from the ordinary?  Well, there were cool headbands, colorful feathers, and campouts filled with daughters and dads where I learned to use a bow and arrow, shoot a shotgun, and roast the perfect marshmallow. Dad was all in!

At about age five, Dad taught me how to play poker.  Next came euchre.  We played A LOT of euchre in grandma’s house on Vinton Street when I was growing up.  In fact, I remember distinctly Dad laughing until he cried one Sunday after mass when he saw to it that Robin and I were pitted against my Grandpa and Uncle Don, Dad’s older brother, in a big euchre game.  We were about 12 and 10 years old, respectively.  We trounced the very experienced Dykhuizen men that morning, and they were utterly rattled.  Dad could not contain himself.  The trash talk was legendary after our victory.  It wasn’t until much later that they were told about how he taught us some signs to use to signal each other—barely perceivable signals– that had been successfully used to win an international bridge tournament that Dad read about.  He taught his two young daughters these hand signals for the sole purpose of watching his Dad and brother come uncorked when they lost at cards to two little girls.  His laughter shook the entire house when it worked perfectly. 

I have so many silly little memories like this for which I’m deeply grateful.  Both of my parents loved us up in an extraordinary way.  They surrounded us always with a supportive atmosphere and the understanding that we were loved unconditionally.

My Dad is a joyful, articulate, sarcasm-filled lover of people and a man of faith.  He’s an uber-involved and phenomenal grandfather too.  I’m sorry to all who have suffered endlessly through the exaggerated stories of my three boys and their sports successes, but I assure you the tales of the musical and artistic giftedness of my nieces, his granddaughters, are for real!

If they gave a Nobel Prize for “Best, Most Unintimidated Conversationalist” I am convinced that Dad could not be beaten.  There are no limits to the “no strangers” rule of life according to Jim Dykhuizen.  He’s extraordinarily gifted at befriending total strangers.  In fact, I guarantee you that as I type this, he’s learning the names of the children and grandchildren of his nurses up there at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lafayette.  I feel certain he’s trying to make the best of an incredibly trying stretch of days.

Dad had a massive heart attack this week.  Because of the COVID rules, Mom was forced to simply drop him at the door of the ER, clutching his chest in pain.  We didn’t hear again from him or about him for 7 hours.  When he called mom from the recovery room after his heart stents were placed, it was the first time we knew he’d had a heart attack and gone into surgery.  I’ll spare you more details but suffice it to say the week has been challenging and emotional for the entire family.

He remains in the hospital, fighting a fever of unknown origin. He’s there all alone.

Lively and persistence recourse to prayer is what I’ve got for this.  It’s all I’ve ever got, honestly.  Sometimes this week, I’ve moved all 50 of the Hail Mary beads and I don’t remember saying any of the prayers.  I’m sure I did, but I don’t recall them a bit.  I was entirely distracted, but the fact is that I tried to turn my glance heavenward, and I’m trusting that Our Blessed Mother sees my heart and has accepted my request for her intercession all the same.  I’ve walked and spoken aloud to the Lord in fits and cries—for Dad, for Mom—and for all of those on my prayer list.  My work this week was sort of like a school kid who did half the math problems and then forgot to sign the test.  I’ve not had a corner on the market in the piety department, but I think God isn’t like the teacher I had who gave 0% when we left our name off the assignment.   We’re in the middle of the coronavirus season, and He’s the amazing teacher who understands my wifi’s been acting up, so patience and compassion are His calling cards. He’s not failing me. He loves me even more than I love my parents.  He loves them more too.

Here’s the thing.  God knows I want to pray.  He sees me trying to turn to Him, doing my best.  That is enough. 

My favorite saint is Therese of Lisieux.  She said, “Prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned towards heaven.  It is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” 

I might be screwing it up, and I’m no theologian, but I think I’ve learned something worth sharing.  It’s about knowing how deeply we need Him, and about our own desire to find Him.  Praying is just us pathetic peasants, beggars that we are, looking for sustenance from the only one who can truly help.  Of course, we wouldn’t be looking for Him if He hadn’t already found us first. It’s painfully simple.

This one’s for Dad.  And, dear reader, if you are so inclined, join me in this prayer for peace of mind and complete healing for one of the best guys around.  I’m thankful to you in advance!

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known, that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided.  Inspired with this confidence, I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful.  O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me.  Amen.

Mom.  Robin.  I love you.  I’m so glad we have each other.  Happy Mother’s Day to two of the best moms on the planet earth.  The blog entry should have been for you guys this weekend.  Dad really knows how to steal the thunder, ha?  What do you say we get him home and well…and then make him pay for pedicures?