I was privileged to attend and graduate from a wonderful Catholic high school. Though I loved the Catholic high school of my youth, like many Catholic teens I argued with my parents when they forced me to go to Mass on Sunday, but I never won those arguments. I am grateful for that today. I attended Mass each week and on Holy Days of Obligation. Though I may have resisted going to Mass, I never questioned my belief in God, and while I was in university, my faith became central to my life.
When I went to teacher’s college in 1990 in Glasgow, Scotland, I chose to specialize in secondary as opposed to primary education, and requested that at least one of my four teaching practicums be within a Catholic high school. I was there to become a Catholic high school teacher because I wanted to teach in a school like the one I had been privileged to attend as a teen. I wanted to share with other Catholic teens my own faith journey and inspire them to open their hearts to our Catholic faith. I knew then how important my faith was to me. It alone sustained me in times of struggle, and lifted me higher in times of joy. I wanted to inspire other Catholic teens to rest in their own faith because I knew that my faith had been the one thing that had sustained me throughout my adolescence.
At the Catholic high school where I am privileged to teach in Yellowknife, École Saint Patrick High School, morning prayer sets the tone of respect and community for the day. Not every student and staff member at École Saint Patrick High School is Catholic; however, the École Saint Patrick High School community – staff, students and parents – value a system of education that nurtures the whole child – body, mind and spirit.
It has been my experience in these thirty years as a Catholic educator, that students want to believe in miracles and infinite power. Catholic educators are there to impart to their students a sense of that magnificence. We’re there to help them become men and women of integrity, to give them a sense of the commissioning of their entire selves.
What is there to cling to if one never has that rock of Christ to rest upon in times of crisis or to look to as an example of true character? How do we know what to return to as a point of grace when we have been blown off course if no one ever gave us a moral compass in the first place? If to be in existential crisis is to be ‘separated from God’, at least those of us who have met Him can find our way back to His loving embrace.
Catholic education lays an important foundation of faith. Faith provides children with a compass of hope sorely needed for their future. Faith is trusting in a support that is unconditional and unwavering. That faith in a higher power always translates into a belief in oneself. Many students don’t have that faith in themselves so sorely needed, and faith alone encourages a devout love of God, a true love of self and an abiding love of others.
When the formal expression of their faith does not appeal to youth, I urge them never to let anything stand between themselves and God. Their Catholic faith is a gift from God, always there for them to draw upon. As they become men and women, they must decide to adopt their faith in a unique and personal way. When times are dark and they feel abandoned by humanity, they will grow to realize that their faith alone will sustain them, and they will come to see that in fact, they are never alone. Christ walks with them and He carries them when they fall. In my own life, it was the realization that I could turn to God for the love and approval for which I had longed craved that allowed me to truly live.
My parents placed me in God’s care on the morning of my baptism in Scotland’s St. Stephen’s Church on St. Valentine’s Day 1965, when I was precisely two weeks old. My Catholic faith is the greatest gift my parents have given me. It has proven to be a life force that anchors me. My feet have rested firmly on that rock that is Christ and I have survived because of Him and my Blessed Mother. It is this that I wish to share with my students as a Catholic educator.
I have learned that one cannot insist that another come to a sense of faith or celebration of that faith. One cannot give faith to another. God alone stirs men’s hearts; however, we can share our faith stories with the young, and then trust that those seeds of faith once planted, will blossom in the beautiful hearts of God’s children, our children, in God’s good time. Be assured that if you lay a strong foundation of Catholic faith when they are young, children will rest in Christ as adults, and that is the most important thing.