“Oh, we could all do that.”
That was the reaction of a colleague when I mentioned I wanted to write something that recalls my Catholic education and reaffirms what Catholic schools have meant to me, my parents, siblings and children.
It’s true, and it’s one of the most enduring aspects of spending formative years in Catholic education. We all have a story. We all can measure the impact.
My story is that of a person who merely put up with the first 12 years of Catholic school.
I got that backward.
They put up with me, thankfully.
Let’s just say I was an uninspired student. My mother — always understated — would say I “didn’t spend enough time with my lessons.” She was right. And as the youngest of five following four college graduates and honor students, it wasn’t the best look.
My love of sports drew me to journalism and a family friend sportswriter provided a path to the lowest rung of a daily newsroom. It was all I needed. I hauled bundles, fetched coffee, typed in weather forecasts and horse racing results and ran any sort of errands until I earned an opportunity to write stories. I was a full-time daily news reporter by age 19, a production editor by 24 and managing editor by 31.
All without a college degree. I eventually made my way back to college, earning a bachelor’s degree at 38 – at a Catholic university, of course.
How did it happen? I’ve always believed it was my strong foundation developed in Catholic schools in addition to having a mother who placed great emphasis on spelling and grammar. And Catholic schools.
We hear often about the sacrifice of sending your children to Catholic schools, and it can be a sacrifice. Mom always believed it was a sacrifice worth making and I considered myself living, breathing evidence of it. My wife joined me in making sacrifices to send our three children to Catholic schools. We would do it again and be grateful we were in a position to do it.
Advocating for Catholic schools can often be construed in some circles as standing against public education. I know, because I’ve been accused of being anti-public education. In decades working in secular journalism, I contributed to news and opinion coverage that sometimes questioned the results of public education, specifically wondering why public education contributors would be so terrified of potential competition from school vouchers and other segments of education that somehow posed a threat to the big industry that public education has become. They would have you believe a daily newspaper editor – in a job dependent on a consumer’s ability to read and write – would be anti-public education? It’s clearly a weak argument.
So, how are Catholic schools special? From this vantage point, it’s the environment. And the people. Catholic schools are filled with people who want to be there. Administrators, teachers, staff and students almost all have a feeling that they are part of something special. Faith and spirituality are at the center of everything, nurturing a moral grounding and confidence that you can work to make the world a better place.
And so many do.
Read about “Share in the Spirit” in the Sept. 14 issue of The Dialog. It’s a way in the Diocese of Wilmington for those who value Catholic education to help others afford it. I can remember as a high school kid my family participating in similar programs that helped us afford it. Who knows where so many of us would have been without it?
That’s my story, or at least the 600-word version of it. My colleague was right. We all have a story.
Count me in as a believer in Catholic education. I like to think of myself as living proof that it can turn out all right.
Joseph P. Owens is editor and general manager of The Dialog. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Oh, we could all do that.”