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Celebrate Catholic education, community

Kate Barrett | Wednesday, January 30, 2008

This week marks the 36th annual national celebration of Catholic Schools Week. All over the country, Catholic elementary and high schools are celebrating the unique contributions a Catholic education makes to the students who attend, as well as to the world. At my children’s grade school, “St. Joe South Bend,” as the students call it, kids are participating in a special prayer service, an environmental awareness day, a pep rally, “share a book with a buddy,” an all-school rosary, “no homework night,” and that most beloved of all days for uniform-wearing grade-schoolers everywhere, Dress Down Day. They also have, rather inexplicably, a Catholic Schools Week Breadstick Day fundraiser for two local charities, through which, for $1, you get two scrumptious Little Caesar’s breadsticks. With sauce. Though the connection between breadsticks and Catholic Schools Week remains unclear, they can’t wait to dig in on Friday (which is also Dress Down Day – no sauce on the uniforms!). And in one of the very human twists of fate that only happens in Catholic schools, my oldest son will take a break from Dress Down Day tomorrow morning, pull his good shoes out of his backpack, and help serve at the funeral of an elderly parishioner who died earlier this week.

The National Catholic Education Association has chosen “Light the Way” as the theme for this year’s Catholic Schools Week, to challenge Catholic school students and graduates to let their lights shine and brighten the future for all humankind. It also reminds us that we are on “the Way,” just as the Bible described the followers of Jesus in the early Church.

Now, I know this isn’t “Catholic Universities Week.” You don’t need to be told to read with a buddy; declaring a no-homework night could be fun, but probably inadvisable; and you don’t have uniforms to dress down from. But that which makes all Catholic schools unique also makes Notre Dame unlike any secular school anywhere: communities connected by a commitment to a common faith in Jesus Christ simply live life differently. And when all the newly matriculated students cascade out of here each May after Commencement weekend, so very many of them begin, in small ways and large, to “light the way.” The experience of sharing faith and life here in a Catholic community that prays, mourns and rejoices together will lead you to seek out parishes to pray in; propel you to serve in ACE schools; motivate you to choose Holy Cross Associates or Farm of the Child or Covenant House; and compel you to bring, through your faith, a much heightened level of ethical behavior to whatever your chosen career path.

Maybe you remember Catholic Schools Week from your own educational past, or maybe not. But think about all the kids around South Bend and all over the nation who are celebrating, praying, participating in fundraisers, dressing down, and learning what it means to “light the way.” Maybe all of us here, at this place which has an unparalleled opportunity to be a light of hope and wisdom and courage, could take a deep breath, pray Father Hesburgh ‘s prayer, “Come, Holy Spirit,” and live as a light. Do your part to make your section, residence hall, team or class a stronger, more welcoming community. Don’t let slurs which perpetuate racism or cheapen sexuality or glorify superficial values pass unchallenged. Make sure you’re spending part of each day focused on other people and not just yourself. Dare to ask for help if you’re trapped by an addiction to alcohol or pornography or other self-destructive behavior.

Through the grace of God, each of us has gifts in abundance to offer those around us. Though you could easily, maybe cynically, say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” and never give this one more thought, I hope you won’t. Take some time to pray about what you have to offer to the world, and do not fear to help light the way.

Kate Barrett is the director of Resources and Special Projects for Campus Ministry. She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are not those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.