When our students learn that when they serve others, they are serving God, that when they lend a helping hand, they are showing people the face of Christ, they are making real faith connections that we hope will last a lifetime.
Our students perform many, many acts of service. Last week, during Catholic Schools Week, we saw students singing for the elderly, collecting clothing and food for those in need and working at The Pine Street Inn. Our students are not only learning about Catholic Social Teaching (CST), they are engaged in carrying out its purposes. While CST has its roots in the Old Testament and has been discussed since Pope Leo XIII wrote about the organization of labor unions and how important they can be for workers, it is not our theology. We are hopeful, however, that in our efforts to serve those who are disadvantaged, we may come to know Christ's presence in our world in new ways, while we share the saving message of Christ's love and sacrifice for us.
Our schools are also teaching our students how to be good stewards of the gifts God has provided them. Catholic school teachers lead by example and our students learn not to waste anything! I have been to schools where they weigh the waste after lunch and I have seen how the children try very hard to reduce that waste each day. I have heard teachers ask students to turn off the lights, so that they don't waste electricity and I have heard Kindergarten students tell other Kindergartners, "not to waste the water." Our schools are alive with examples of good stewardship!
On a recent school visit, the students were studying our electoral process and the teachers were discussing respect of people with differing viewpoints, while being firm in your own beliefs. The students were listening and discussing how to do this well and I thought at the time that it is a lesson that some adults should learn. The students were asked to practice listening and questioning techniques and you could see them grow in confidence as they practiced these skills. These students were learning about civic responsibility and a well informed electorate.
When I was a teacher and principal, I often wondered if our students were really connected to our efforts to help those who we sought to serve and if they were learning the lessons of stewardship. As teachers, we wondered if the generosity our students showed would exist when they left us and moved on to the secular world. We worked hard to link our students to those we were trying to assist and at times, there were true connections between the students and those they served. Those were moments that we teachers prayed for and celebrated.
Fast forward almost 20 years and via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, I am connected to many former students. I see in their posts that many of them learned the lessons. They write of taking their own children to help out at shelters or delivering clothes to those in need, while praying for those less fortunate. I see by their activities that they are generous and want to do their part to make our world better. They serve our Church as leaders and lectors, catechists and teachers. I am grateful for social media when this happens, because in a very real way, I can see that our students did learn these important lessons.
In our schools, teachers are studying Catholic Social Teaching with their students. When our students learn that when they serve others, they are serving God, that when they lend a helping hand, they are showing people the face of Christ, they are making real faith connections that we hope will last a lifetime. Research indicates that, "Catholic schools tend to produce graduates who are more civically engaged, more tolerant for diverse views, and more committed to service as adults." (Campbell, 2001; Greeley and Rossi, 1966; Greene, 1998; Wolf, Greene, Kleitz, and Thalhammer, 2001; and Thalhammer, 2001) We believe that studying the Church's social teaching, along with our doctrine and catechism is time well spent. We are bringing our students and those we serve to Jesus, teaching them to know, love and serve God. I am grateful that in the Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of Boston, the teaching of our faith, includes instruction and the practice of Catholic Social Teaching.
Our schools are integral to the Church's mission of evangelization. In addition to teaching our students about Catholic Social Teaching and then providing students with multiple opportunities to serve and live out the tenets of CST, our schools are examples of what it means to evangelize, to share the good news of Jesus. We ask that you pray for our students, teachers and school leaders. Evangelization is our great work and with your prayers, we will continue our development of our saints and scholars as we begin our Lenten journeys.
KATHY MEARS IS THE SUPERINTENDENT OF CATHOLIC SCHOOLS IN THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON.