We are in the midst of Catholic Schools Week! Last Friday evening, as has been the custom for 11 years, the Light the Way Scholarship Dinner was held at the Oncenter. We honored Bishops Moynihan and Costello, Donna Skrocki, Patrick Kinne, and three educators who have served in our Catholic schools for 40 years. What a joyous occasion and kickoff for Catholic Schools Week.

It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this week’s column that I am convinced our Catholic schools are a great gift to our diocese and to the nation. I am a Catholic school graduate, beginning my time in Catholic schools in first grade and continuing through high school, college, and graduate studies. Although I learned about my faith first from the words and example of my parents, I was fortunate they sent me to a Catholic elementary and high school where the Gospel and the teachings of the Church were integrated into all subject areas and the overall environment of the school.

My Catholic school education is a gift I cherish. My experience in Catholic education institutions is a rich blessing. The lessons learned from elementary through graduate school have stayed with me to the present day. I take this opportunity to share some of the lessons I learned — lessons that our Catholic schools continue to teach today.

We are called to be saints. From my earliest years I learned that God created me to know, love, and serve Him in this life and to be happy with Him in eternity. I knew that my Catholic education was preparing me to be a good citizen of this world and someday, God willing, a good citizen of heaven — a saint! I learned the importance of forming good habits, virtues that modeled my life after Christ’s life. I learned that personal responsibility was expected and that actions had consequences. Most important I learned that God loved me so much He sent His Son who died for me. Even today I remember my first grade teacher, Sister Mary Cecilia, saying, “If you were the only one in the world Jesus would have died for you.” What a beautiful message about God’s overwhelming love for every one of us.

We are called to respect the dignity of every human person. Every one of us is created in God’s image and likeness. Catholic schools proclaim the deepest mystery of the human person, namely, that he or she is created lovingly by an all-wise and all-good God “in his image and likeness.” During my school years, I learned that every life is worth living from conception to natural death. This worth depends on no accomplishment, no status or position. It rests on the conviction that every person has a unique place in creation.

We are called to live in community. We are not isolated individuals. The human person by nature is a social being. We live in the community of our family, our parish, our village or city, our state and nation. Catholic schools are communities of faith. As such they uphold the dignity of each person and foster the bonds that link persons together. From my earliest years I remember teachers reminding me and my class that we needed to get along, to act and to speak kindly, to apologize when we offended someone, to forgive others, to talk out our differences, to stand up for our convictions while respecting the opinions of others. Cultivating relationships that promoted harmony and the well-being of the whole were important lessons we were expected to practice.

We are called to serve. Pope Francis reminds us often that we have a responsibility to reach out to our brothers and sisters. He encourages us to have a “Samaritan attitude,” following the example of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel who noticed the plight of the man on the side of the road and reached out to him. During my formal years of education I learned, mostly from the example of my teachers and professors, that knowledge was not primarily a key to open the way to material prosperity and success. It was not a means to gain power over another but an aid toward a fuller understanding of what it means to live in communion with others and to serve and be responsible for others.

We are called to witness to the Gospel. Certainly, I learned about my faith from what my teachers taught. It was their good example, their witness to the Gospel message, however, that most touched my heart and moved me to share my faith. In the schools I attended my knowledge of our faith developed and matured. Living witnesses to this faith were evident in the good example of teachers and administrators. We did not use the term “evangelization” during my early school years, but the responsibility to proclaim the Gospel by our words and good example were expected. We learned that sharing our faith, sometimes with words but more often through action and good example, was an integral part of our faith.

Sanctity, respect for the human person, community, service, witness — words that frame the gift of a Catholic school education. May God bless and sustain our Catholic schools.

If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.

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