"Big Four" Highlights


Catholic Schools – To Catch a Glimpse of Jesus

By Brian Caulfield, FFG Editor

Back to School

Preparing my two boys for the new school year inevitably brings back memories of how things were when I was growing up. I’ll leave to others the exaggerations of walking to school “10 miles uphill both ways” or the frightful demeanor of “Attila the Nun.” My Catholic school days in New York City were normal and happy, for the most part. The sisters were kind, although some were outright eccentric, and the priests were hardworking and approachable.

The overall feeling I had while attending St. John the Evangelist School in midtown Manhattan was one of love and security. I knew that my parents cared enough to send me and my two brothers to Catholic school (which cost very little in the 1960s) and the teachers seemed to extend that sense of caring. There was a large picture in the back of each room of a brother and sister walking to school with a Guardian Angel watching over them, and that’s just how I felt going to Catholic school.

My wife and I are fortunate to have found a school where we live now in Connecticut that reminds us of the ones we attended. We value a strong Catholic identity, commitment to sacramental life, first Friday Mass and regular Confession times. Yet there are some things that are different today. When we were growing up, sisters filled most of the classrooms, with long habits sweeping the floor and full veils that made us wonder if they had any hair save the one or two strands that snuck out. My children’s school may be unusual since it has two religious sisters, one who is the principal and the other a teacher, but I would still like to see the convent once again filled with religious sisters like it was in my day.

Before, during and after school, you knew the sisters were there all day for you. Some of the kids in my class would joke about how the sisters weren’t married and covered their hair and most of their face, but I always thought of their vow of chastity as a sign of commitment to the school and to us. I’ll never forget Sister Elaine, my youthful first grade teacher, grabbing the basketball at halftime, dribbling down court – her black habit flying and rosary beads jangling – and making a perfect backboard layup as the crowd leaped from the wobbly bleachers. Then there was Sister Helen in third grade who asked students to get their parents to send in “plaid stamps” from the local supermarket so she could redeem them for coffee makers or blenders for the convent. “Complete the remaining pages at home, and don’t forget those plaid stamps,” she would say each day as the bell rang.

Then there was red-haired Father Sullivan, the youngest of three priests on staff. I was scared stiff one afternoon when I was running home and saw him at the mailboxes of my apartment building. Trying to recall if I had done anything so bad that a priest would be looking for me, I walked slowly toward him. He was looking for the buzzer of the disabled lady on the ground floor whom we all knew as Little Mary. I showed him the button to press and Little Mary came to the door, limping with her braces, and invited us both in. I sat quietly, watching Father Sullivan as he sipped tea, engaged in small talk and laughter, and then placed a stole over his neck, took the little pyx from his pocket and gave Communion to Little Mary. It was one of the holiest moments I have ever known. Suddenly I saw that Jesus was with us even in the simplest settings of an ordinary day.

These are the moments I hope for my two boys to experience. These are the reasons why – despite the significant financial sacrifices today – we would send them only to Catholic school, where they may have more than a passing glance at Jesus passing in their midst.

This column was distributed through Catholic News Service.