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Catholic Schools Week: United in Faith and Community

“The faculty and staff of our two schools are making a big difference in the lives of their students. They do a great job instilling the relationships and beliefs important to us as Catholic Christians,” says Michael Clay, pastor of St. Francis. National Catholic Schools Week (CSW) is celebrated this year from Sunday, January 28th through Saturday, February 3rd. It is an annual recognition traditionally held the last week in January. The theme for this 50th anniversary year to celebrate CSW is “Catholic Schools: United in Faith and Community.” Catholic schools observe the week with Masses and other activities for students, families, parishioners, and community members to celebrate what makes Catholic schools great. 

At The Franciscan School and the St. Francis Preschool, they enthusiastically embrace the celebration of Catholic education each year as they recognize all they offer to their students and families. The leaders of both schools provided their perspectives on what their schools offer to families. Dawn Smith, principal at The Franciscan School, says, “Beyond academics, Catholic schools aim to prepare students for life beyond the classroom. This preparation includes developing critical thinking skills, effective communication, and a strong moral compass. Catholic schools offer a unique combination of values-based education, character development, academic excellence, and a supportive community. Our families seek an education integrating faith, morality, and academic rigor; TFS can provide their children a well-rounded and enriching educational experience.” 

“Our students are formed daily around the core beliefs of our Catholic faith,” says Father Michael. “Daily prayer and weekly Mass shape their spiritual lives.” At The Franciscan School, he says, “Learning and practicing the ways of St. Francis also shape our students to look at life through a lens that is quite different from our secular world, a lens that would make our world a better place all around if it were taken seriously by more people.” Looking towards their futures, he adds, “I’m thrilled that our students are formed in the ways of St. Francis at TFS, as many of them will have significant leadership roles in our society later in life.”  

Director Heidi Hobler of the St. Francis Preschool emphasizes, “Catholic Schools strive to foster an environment that is built on the foundations of faith while encouraging the formation of a ‘family of people’ who understand and believe in the importance of living a life which shares love, forgiveness, and understanding equally amongst those whom we know and those who are strangers to us.” Why does this matter? Heidi points out, as did Dawn, that “Catholic Schools are committed to the idea that educating a young child goes beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic; it involves nurturing the whole person and the belief that the development of kindness, compassion, and generosity are as important as academics.”  

“Our pre-schoolers are at that wonderful phase of life where they naturally sense the divine, the spiritual, and the holy all around them,” says Father Michael. “Our Preschool staff is masterful in helping these children see the face and presence of God in all their experiences.  What a wonderful gift they offer these children who have so much to teach us adults who can often struggle to find these relationships and experiences in our daily lives.”  When thinking about his interactions with the Preschool students, he says, “My hope is strengthened.”

When considering the impact of Catholic schools, Dawn says, “Catholic schools foster a strong sense of community among students, parents, and educators. This supportive environment can enhance the overall educational experience and create lasting connections. Catholic Schools foster a child’s growth towards becoming a kind, caring, respectful, and compassionate individual.” Heidi agrees, adding, “Catholicism offers examples of those who modeled these values through their love of God and neighbor. Our Catholic schools can share stories of those who lived a life of kindness, compassion, and generosity, including the ultimate example provided by Jesus Christ. They can easily emphasize, in all that they do, these values and practice living like those who followed Christ. Catholic schools are firmly committed to forming future generations of people of faith who truly understand what it means to be a good person.” 

During Catholic Schools Week, daily themes emphasize all aspects of Catholic education. The week starts on January 28th with a celebration of the parish. Catholic Schools are an outreach of the faith formation programs of the parish, the root of the faith of the Church. Throughout the week, we will celebrate our community at St. Francis, one that works and learns together. The students are hailed and recognized as both the beneficiaries and future advocates of Catholic education. With her freedom and religious rights, our country is also recognized and celebrated on one day during CSW. Vocations are one of the daily celebrations for those who choose a religious vocation and lead our parishes and for those whose secular work supports those parishes. We encourage all students to use their God-given talents to benefit humanity. Of course, we take time to recognize our schools’ faculty, staff, and volunteers for their hard work in making Catholic education successful and vital in the lives of their students. Lastly, and most importantly, we celebrate our families, the building blocks of our parishes and schools. Their dedication to providing for and supporting their children in the faith leads to a continuation of our faith through the formation programs in our parishes and our schools. 

Father Clay states, “While there are many other reasons our schools make a difference in our students’ lives, it is for all of the reasons noted above that make our schools quintessentially Catholic.” Our schools at St. Francis, genuinely embracing the week’s theme, are united in the Catholic faith with the St. Francis community! 

Author: Mike Watson