“Standing on the shoulders of giants”
My earliest memory of Catholic education was my first year of Kindergarten at Our Lady of Victory School in Victoria, TX. Catholic education is many things, has lost many things, has gained many things, is going many places, places many in wonderful places, and so many other things. But I am going to give you a perspective of things I remember, a walk down my Catholic education memory road.
Good habits. A handful of experiences stand out and have always been recalled when I consider my Catholic schooling. One is Sister Emilie. She was the principal in my first year of school and I remember personally meeting her, which was a huge event for a five year old, at the annual marathon fundraiser. I remember her walking the park roads in habit and greeting all the school kids. She only principled my first year before moving up to high school where I would attend eight years later. Throughout those years I continued to run into her from time to time and we would exchange chats on the latest frogs. That’s right, the good sister and I both collected frogs.
In the same year, I remember going to Mass. OLV has Mass once a week, stations during Lent, and First Friday Mass. In one morning Mass as a kindergartener, Monsignor asked the K-4th graders if they had any questions (probably pertaining to his homily) but this little guy raised his hand and asked “If Mary is the Mother of God, then who is Mary’s parents?” And so my journey to answer the deep theological questions continued. Two years later, I offered my first Confession and received First Communion. Yes, I got one of those cheapy black prayer binder things with a Rosary and plastic covered scapular. Also this year, I was asked the all-important question of every second grader, “What is your favorite song?” Well, being the oldest child in the family, I did not have the wisdom of age to know Bon Jovi. My response was simply, “Silent Night” like as if “Isn’t everybody’s favorite that?” Two years later, I joined an elite Catholic boys group that came with a special black costume and allowed us to skip out of class pretty often. Being an altar boy, I continued to serve at Mass until I graduated high school.
Fast forward to St. Joseph High School. We were the Flyers, and it wasn’t until I went to Franciscan that someone asked, “Oh, St. Joseph of Cupertino Flyers?” Well no. But Flyers we were. We were fortunate to have a great theology program starting with one of the best men, teachers, and coaches I have met, Coach Shimek; he later invited Barbara McGuigan to come speak to the senior class on the topic of abortion. Then a University of Dallas graduate introduced me to “Beckett” with the excommunication scene playing over and over in my mind. Take a look and see for yourself way the scene is impressive:
Another theology teacher led a few of us on monastic trips to a monastery in New Mexico and short pilgrimages to St. Joseph’s staircase, a mystery painting, and the one of the oldest Catholic Church’s in the nation. More good habits. Our senior class prom queen eventually became a Nashville Dominican, she was also the Class President. I say she nunnified so that she wouldn’t have to be responsible for all the class reunions!
Friar habits. Off to college I went. It was a small Catholic liberal arts school in the fascinatingly smoggish foothills next to the running waters of the radioactive Ohio River. It was there I met my future wife. We really tried to shake things up there. Given this latest conservative news, my wife was one of those with the nose ring but also played Mary in the yearly Passion Play. It was here I went to confession…and confessed those sins. You know, the ones I was always way to embarrassed to mention to the priest’s that saw me grow up. But now, boy, do they here an ear full! I owe this thanks to my first college roommate that told me straight up, “Jared, you have to confess those.” Anyways, Catholic undergraduate was filled with many wonderful memories, awesome classes, and good community. It was here that I met some old friends like von Hildebrand, Dante, and C.S. Lewis. And I met some new ones like my fraternity brothers and ever so many others. Recently, I saw my former roommate on the front of a Spanish magazine cover. My last name is always brutalized when pronounced. It was here, at the best Catholic university in the nation that for the first time someone mistakenly thought my last name was “Demonic” instead of “ta-mon-ik.”
Over the 21 years of Catholic schooling, I always enjoyed learning about my Faith even though there were plenty of things I didn’t always completely understand. Then, like now, I would ask, inform, learn, and either agree or determine that I was not near as competent as Mother Church or knew that my question was probably answered by somebody else in some other time and place. But it always made sense when I dug deeper.
Good habits start at home. In the background, and more important than the schools themselves, was the involvement of my parents in my Catholic education. The Faith was always alive growing up from weekly Mass, Holy Days of Obligation, knowing the Rosary, Blessing before Meals, Church-going grandparents that all went to Mass every week, to sacramentals handed out, hung up, or worn. It was a traditional home, not some kind of overly pious pseudo monastery so often depicted or stereotyped. It was just a home, a domestic church, and like all churches, she passed on her traditions. I still have the big wooden black beads that my great-grandmother passed on to my mom. She was a tiny shriveled up Bohemian great grandmother with a Rosary that weighed as much as she did. My grandfather would tell us the stories and legends of our family, how his grandfather and his great-grandfather fought against each other in the Civil War and eventually built the first Czech church in Hostyn. We all had the struggles, sins, glories, and sanctification. It was not perfect but I always knew to keep God first, family second, and myself third. I did not say I always practiced that hierarchy of goods, but I always knew when life threw a curve ball I could count on my Faith, both in the truth seeking intellectual area and practical meet to discuss an issue with a priest type. In fact, many of the priests that were stationed at the cathedral school I went to are now diocesan priests that I call for Confession or see celebrate Mass. Although I always heard of priest shortages, we always seemed to be in the right spot at the right time to see one.
At least in my experience, I think the New Springtime of Evangelization upon us has to do with those primary educators handing on the Faith to their children that was received from “standing on the shoulders of giants” and Catholic educator’s continuing to primarily offer the True, Good, and Beautiful.