I have already told many people that my three brothers, my sister and one of my sisters-in-law all graduated from Villanova University. Do you want to know what I was doing last Monday night? I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two don’t count. 'Nova Nation.
God bless my parents and their support of Catholic education because all of my siblings and I attended Catholic elementary (St. Ann’s, Wildwood), high school (Wildwood Catholic) and college. (I happened to enter St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood, Pennsylvania for college, just slightly down Lancaster Pike from Villanova. This was followed by four years at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland for my graduate studies.) There was never really an option for us. We were supposed to attend Catholic school.
Personally, I spent twenty years of my Priesthood formally assigned to Catholic schools. I was involved with every task from teacher, to chaplain, to guidance counselor, to assistant principal, to principal and school president. Sadly, I watched as two of my former schools were closed.
Lots have changed regarding Catholic schools, including people’s attitudes toward Catholic education. Tuition rates are much more expensive. Gone are the days of multiple religious sisters in every Catholic school. Combine this with the property taxes in the state of New Jersey and a sluggish economy. Frequently people find money and household budgets extremely tight. Choices are made and Catholic school is not always an option for families for various reasons.
With all of this said, was Catholic school the right choice for me? I know so, without a doubt. I credit my vocation to the priesthood, in large part, to my Catholic school background. I also state definitively that no Catholic school is perfect and meant for everyone. I had my share of good and bad teachers over the years. I saw all too many people view Catholic schools as an escape from poor public schools in a particular district. Disappointingly, not everyone practiced their Catholic faith while attending a Catholic school. This created a type of dichotomy in the household—Catholic school during the week but no church, no Mass attendance on Sunday. Mixed message?
Granted, while Catholic schools are, in various ways, imperfect and unfortunately costly, they are still one of the best tools to help carry on the Catholic faith. Yes, the education is excellent, the discipline superior, and the family atmosphere priceless. Yet, can we ever put a value on the formation of someone’s eternal soul? Catholic schools encourage prayer, a relationship with Jesus Christ, a study of the faith, a moral code to live by, service to the community, and seek to form the whole person—body, mind and soul. Their goal—our goal—is to help develop a well-rounded, Christian lady or gentleman. We desire to give them the tools that they will need for life and its many difficult decisions. Catholic schools, needless to say, always need to be true to their identity.
Maybe children do not always appreciate what was given them when they are young. I am not sure that I always did. That’s the essence of being an immature child. Looking back, however, I am grateful for the sacrifices of my parents and others who allowed me to experience a Catholic school as an important part of my faith formation. I am pretty sure my Priesthood vocation was nurtured there.
Getting back to Villanova for a moment, congratulations on a national men’s basketball championship! You made us all proud. (Secretly, you had the Catholic advantage playing the final game on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of Our Lord. Just saying!)
Fr. Ed Namiotka