In my twenty years of priesthood, I have served as pastor of three different parish communities. Of those three parishes, two of them have had parish schools. There is something different when it comes to the experience of being pastor of a parish community with a parish school. To be sure, there are plenty of blessings and there are a few challenges. One of those challenges is the sacrifice that is required as part of parish life in order to support a parish school.
It may seem a little odd to think that a parish school requires sacrifice, but it certainly does. The inherent question implied here is this: is the sacrifice worth it? In order to arrive at an answer, let’s take a few moments to think about the work of any parish school.
I think it is best to see a parish school as an integral part of and an expansion of the ministry that is offered by a parish community. Viewed in this way, everything that is undertaken by the school becomes an extension of the core mission of any parish: to help individuals of all ages to discover, build and live an active and loving relationship with God through the life of the Church. At the very core of this vision is the desire to share Jesus with everyone we meet. That desire cannot be viewed as a product – it is really about living lives in which we encounter Jesus daily in prayer, study, work and service. Such a life has a deep sense of fulfillment and purpose that transforms the “ordinary-ness” of everyday life into a series of encounters with Jesus and his Church. It is a way of life that encourages and fosters faith and invites others into a relationship with Jesus.
This is what I have seen time and again in the parish schools that have been a part of my priestly ministry. In order for this to be possible, a parish community must sacrifice resources that might be used in other ways, in order to make a parish school possible and support its operation year after year. Parents, guardians, grandparents and many others make a shared sacrifice of family resources in order to make a Catholic education possible. Faculty and staff make a combined sacrifice of compensation and time in order to ensure that our students are formed in faith and well-educated.
Is this sacrifice worth it? Take some time to read about how a Catholic school impacted the lives of Danielle and her family. Time and again, I have seen how a parish school can touch the lives of people of faith and those who are seeking faith. To be sure, a parish school is not the only means by which such growth in faith can occur. It is, however, a very unique means by which the faith of many can be nurtured and sustained.
At the end of January, we will celebrate Catholic Schools Week. If you’ve never visited a parish school, take the time to do so. I think you’ll be both surprised and touched by the amazing things that are happening in our parish schools, all made possible through our shared sacrifice. And so, our journey in FAITH continues.