You would have thought she found the winning lottery ticket in that box. She beamed as she asked the kids if they knew the story of the mouse.
As the last ornaments were being put on the tree, my wife excitedly asked, "Where is the mouse?" The kids quizzically looked at their mom. Generally, when we have a mouse, it is a matter of excitement but this time the excitement was coupled with a big smile on my wife's face. She asked again, "Has anyone seen the mouse?"
She reached down and rummaged through the tissue paper littering the plastic ornament box until her hand emerged with an ornament shaped like a mouse that also functioned as a bell. This mouse was the best early 1980s Christmas ornaments had to offer. You would have thought she found the winning lottery ticket in that box. She beamed as she asked the kids if they knew the story of the mouse.
In 1980, as a third grader at St. James School in Binghamton, New York, my wife was handed a case of Christmas gear to sell door-to-door to neighbors, friends, relatives and anyone who would listen. The goal was to raise money for her school. This mouse is all that remains of her foray into the world of sales and fundraising. She recalled this story fondly, many happy memories of her childhood years and friends from St. James filling her mind. This is one of the joys of Christmas ornaments; they remind us of when we received them and from whom we received them. They connect us to times and people from the past and, in many cases, provide warm memories.
This ornament is a wonderful connection to my wife's history, but it is also an aching frustration for me. The frustration of knowing that so many Catholic schools still feel the need to arm a sales force of third graders to sell wrapping paper, chocolate, and other items in an effort to raise funds for their schools.
Just a few years ago, my niece was selling wrapping paper for her Catholic school. When I offered to write a check instead of buying the wrapping paper, I was informed that my niece needed to reach her goal and that a donation would not count. I commend the students and schools for engaging in efforts to support their schools; this is not from where my frustration emanates. My frustration comes from the fact that these schools are worthy of support because of the transformative impact they have on students, families, communities and our Church, not because they have the latest product for sale.
The Catholic Schools Foundation is blessed with donors who give freely to support students, families and schools in the Archdiocese of Boston. These donors are Catholic and non-Catholic, some attended Catholic schools and some did not. What is common among them all is the knowledge that Catholic schools change lives and are worthy of support. These donors know that the principals, teachers, and other school employees are continuing a rich tradition in the Archdiocese of Boston that is almost 200 years old -- a tradition built on the work of committed sisters, brothers, and priests who gave their lives in the service to the Church and young people.
As I look at that mouse, I remain hopeful that the army of third-grade salespeople will one day be replaced by more donors like those of the Catholic Schools Foundation -- who see the true value and impact of Catholic schools on the lives of so many.
This Christmas Season, as you reflect on the ornaments that connect you to the past and your own memories, may the peace of Christ fill you with the true joy of Christmas.
- Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, www.CSFBoston.org.