“A lot,” my mom said. “A whole lot.” And she went back to washing the dishes.
I shrugged and laughed, and pressed her for an actual answer.
“Honestly, I don’t know, Katie. I’d have to sit down and do the math. But I can tell you this much: your Catholic education, from day care through college, was worth every penny.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you clearly still love the Lord, and you’re raising your family in the faith. And I think Catholic schools had a lot to do with that.”
I was asking about the cost merely because I wanted to compare tuition costs today to those of the ’90s and early 2000s, when my little sister and I both attended Catholic schools, going on to Catholic universities, earning degrees in theology. We now both work for the church, I in writing and youth ministry, she as a canon lawyer.
I’d bet the amount of money my folks spent on our Catholic education is far from small, and while it’s hard to do a cost-benefit analysis on a Catholic education, I can certainly identify tangible benefits in my life — benefits I want for my daughter, who will begin attending a Catholic school in August.
The Catholic schools I went to weren’t just places that put me in a plaid skirt and marched me in and out of mandatory religion classes, weekly Masses, daily morning prayer and the occasional retreat/day of reflection. They were places that marched me into a theology class and gave me space and time to wrestle with big questions, working through confusion and doubt until I could come to a place of belief and understanding.
Catholic schools are where I learned to pray. I remember vividly when my second grade teacher, Mrs. Tartamella, led us into the quiet, empty church the first week of school, explaining that talking to Jesus is like talking to your very best friend. What a perfect way to explain prayer to a 7-year-old who would go to confession for the first time and have first Communion a few months later.
Catholic schools are the place I made lifelong friends in classmates and teachers alike. They were the places that encouraged me to try new things, like joining the speech and debate team, writing for the school newspaper, serving on the student council and playing (for one game) soccer.
Catholic schools gave me community, witnessed to the faith, led me to a deeper understanding of Catholicism and showed me the church was far more than a building, but could be my home.
Catholic schools were so impactful on me that I taught theology in one for five years, hopefully giving to students the same gift that was given to me: space, time and the opportunity to meet and fall in love with Jesus.
When my husband and I began talking about how we want to educate our kids, we weighed all the options. Home school? Not really suited to our temperaments. Public school? Sure, we’re in a good school district. But something nagged at us.
So we went and toured St. Margaret’s, a small Catholic school in our hometown, known for its small class sizes, vibrant and tightknit student body, its gorgeous church, and the Religious Sisters of Mercy on campus.
Something clicked when we walked in … something felt right. It felt like home. The same way my schools always felt like home. The same way the church is our home.
In that moment, I knew — this must have been the same feeling my mom and dad had every time they wrote a tuition check, chaperoned a field trip or volunteered for a school fundraiser. This was the feeling that this was worth it and there’d be a great benefit, because we’re giving our child a remarkable gift: a Catholic education that will certainly cost, but also mean, a lot.
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(Katie Prejean McGrady is an international Catholic speaker and author. She is project manager of Ave Explores from Ave Maria Press and logs over 100,000 travel miles a year speaking to audiences of all ages and sizes. She has her degree in theology from the University of Dallas and lives with her husband and daughter in Lake Charles, Louisiana.)