In 1974, National Catholic Schools Week was established as the annual celebration of Catholic education. In 2017, Catholic Schools Week begins on January 29 and ends on February 4. Its 2017 theme is "Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge, and Service."
During this special week, Masses, open houses, and other activities for students, families, parishioners, and others are offered. Through these events, Catholic schools call attention to contributions Catholic education provides for youth, church, community, and country.
Since I was a Catholic school- teacher for 22 years, in this article I will focus upon appreciating the value of Catholic schoolteachers.
Teachers as witnesses
In the pastoral document, The Catholic School, it says, "By their witness and behavior, teachers are of first importance in imparting a distinctive character to Catholic schools."
Pope Paul VI stated that modern humanity listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers. He or she listens best to teachers who witness Jesus' love.
The primary teacher in Catholic schools is Jesus. In the Dictionary of the Bible, Fr. John L. McKenzie, a famous Bible scholar, wrote that the title "teacher" was given to Jesus in the New Testament more than any other title.
Jesus spent much of his public ministry teaching. Jesus continues to teach through Catholic teachers who represent him.
In the office of a principal I admire hangs a plaque which reads, "Good teachers affect eternity. You never know when their influence stops." She embodies the plaque's message by the respect she shows students and faculty.
At Beloit Catholic High, our faculty periodically had in-service days which had a faith dimension. At one of these days, I was deeply moved as each teacher shared how much they wanted their students to learn and to grow as persons.
High school teachers can be role models who offer encouraging words and support. Sometimes this happens in unexpected ways. One hectic day, Emily Jones, a senior, asked Principal Sherman Padgett to hold a bucket. Aware that it was Senior Prank Day, he grumpily declined.
When he returned to his office, the bucket mysteriously appeared on his desk. "What's with the bucket?'' he asked his secretary. " Oh, go out and hold it," his secretary suggested diplomatically. Obediently Principal Padgett held the bucket in the hall. Students dropped over 100 pieces of paper with messages in the bucket.
One message read, "Thanks for the shirt you gave me! When I didn't have clothes, you provided them." Another wrote, "The thing about you is that you are always so happy and positive." Some messages said simply, "I love you!"
Emily Jones and two friends asked the seniors to write notes to tell the principal what he'd meant to them. With tearful eyes, Principal Padgett said, "This is why I teach!"
Arguably the best years of my life and priesthood were my 22 years of teaching high school. Catholic Schools Week invites us to appreciate our teachers. I experienced such appreciation when a former student wrote me a letter which included this quotation:
"Our Sunday teacher never talked down to us kids no matter how silly we acted. I blush now to think of the outrageous questions we asked just to bait him a little. He would then smile and answer us with sincerity, wisdom, and above all with patience. So we would learn in spite of ourselves. We loved him like a father and he in turn taught us about the Heavenly Father."
The writer added, "This quotation reminds me of you, Father." I don't think she was completely correct, but I appreciated the affirmation.
Let's be thankful for those who taught us and helped us grow. Catholic teachers build upon the foundation laid at home by parents who are the primary religious educators of their children.
May Catholic Schools Week help us to understand and appreciate the important role teachers have in Catholic schools.
Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.