During my own 12 years of Catholic school education, students were encouraged to be involved in service projects at school, in our parishes, and in our communities.
I can still remember Aquinas High School students in La Crosse in 1965 sandbagging along the Mississipi River. Severe flooding had caused the river to crest at 16 feet, nearly four feet above flood stage. Many students came out to help save the community.
Our own children did a number of service projects at Our Lady Queen of Peace Elementary School and Edgewood High School in Madison. In fact, Edgewood High requires a minimum of 100 hours of service as a graduation requirement. Many students do much more than 100 hours.
Edgewood High describes service opportunities this way:
Within their own community: Examples include working at food banks, tutoring, summer-camp counseling, helping with church functions, hospital volunteering, serving meals to the needy, and visiting the elderly. We require students to serve at least 50 of their 100 hours in this way.
Within the Edgewood community: Examples include ushering at performances, managing a team, and helping in the office.
In this week’s Catholic Herald, we are publishing a special section on Catholic Schools Week activities throughout our Diocese of Madison Catholic schools from January 29 to February 4. Many schools tell about service projects being held in their schools and communities.
Why service matters
So why does service matter? As the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) says on its website, “A central aspect of Catholic education is learning the importance of service to others. When students take part in service activities — both local and beyond — they demonstrate the values and faith they gain through their Catholic education and learn how to make the world a better place.
“When they observe how others serve the community, they gain an appreciation for how they can continue to serve others their entire lives.”
Putting faith into action
Service is really putting our faith into action. As we learned during the Church’s recently concluded Year of Mercy, living out the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy should be an essential part of our faith.
Jesus himself encouraged us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and perform other works of mercy as an essential part of being his followers. “Whatever we do to the least of our brothers, that we do onto him,” he told us.
I would encourage all of us to join our local Catholic schools — where possible — in their service projects during Catholic Schools Week. Or do our own service projects, especially on Monday, Jan. 30, which is the National Day of Service.
On that day, we can join the NCEA and its partners, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA, to serve in our communities by working with Catholic Charities and other non-profit organizations.
Service does matter. It’s a life-long habit we can begin in our school years and carry on throughout our lives.