For Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 29-Feb. 4), all of the friars were asked to think about their experience in Catholic schools. Initially, I went to public schools until the fourth grade. During that time, the Sisters of Charity with their long habits and wagon wheel veil bonnets taught us “publics” by way of CCD. The Baltimore Catechism of 1959 was in vogue. And I am still grateful to know the questions and the answers to the First Lesson: “Who made you?” “God made me.” “Why did God make you?” “To know, love and serve God in this life and be happy with God in the next.” These two simple questions and answers give a solid rock to stand on: to know that God intentionally called us, loved us into being. And to know our genuine human purpose: to know, love and serve God. This purpose creates happiness.
Naturally, as I matured, I absolutely needed to question everything—and did! My Catholic high school education had space for these questions. My freshman year was a period of throwing out every pat memorized answer. I wondered about the reality of God. Was God an invention like Santa? My Catholic high school (Alter in Kettering) gave a secure environment of faith that was unafraid and open to these questions. There, two Sisters of Charity impressed me for entirely different reasons. One was Sr. Katie Hoelscher, who taught math (my worst subject). But for any student that needed help understanding this tortuous subject, there was a tutoring time at 6:30 a.m. before school began. Sr. Katie’s patience, her passion for students to learn and strictness were a great combo that helped me get through. She was someone giving her life away like the Sower throwing out the seed, hoping some of it might land on good soil.
On a totally different side was another Sister of Charity, Sr. Julia Subaru. She, too, had strong passion for English and literature of any kind. She was sort of a hippie nun, who encouraged rebellion, creativity, even chaos of a sort. Just as long as you read the material. But what a wide range of material! We studied authors from Sartre and Camus, Martin Buber to Black Elk and other Sioux literature, to Shakespeare and Maya Angelou. Speakers like Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, graced our school. When Sr. Julia plastered a very psychedelic banner in the cafeteria that read, “Consider the Alternatives!” I took her up on that. I had read enough about St. Francis, seen Richard and the New Jerusalem Community, and wondered about St. Leonard’s nearby to inquire whether this Franciscan life was an “alternative” that I should consider.
The richness of a Catholic education is not just scholastic. It is high quality education that affords young people a liminal space to question their place in the universe, to witness men and women of faith in action, to fall in love with God, to make a difference with our planet and those in need. Liminal spaces keep the edges hot with discipline and expectations. But it’s only to surround an encouraging space for the creativity of the Spirit. It was the spirit of Jesus who enticed me to the adventure of my own life.