By Mary Beth Peabody
For The Dialog
“Catholic schools are the place where leadership and respect for others is modeled and leaders are grown,” says Father John Mink, pastor of St. Ann Church in Wilmington. “Catholic school students … are instilled with values that teach them to be both good citizens of the world and good citizens of the Kingdom.”
Father Mink, like pastors throughout the Diocese of Wilmington, is getting ready for the annual Share in the Spirit campaign to support the Vision for the Future Fund — a crucial source of tuition assistance for Catholic school families. As pastors prepare to ask parishioners for support, they reflect not only on the value of Catholic schools for students and families, but on the lifelong gifts Catholic school students bring to their communities.
“Thanks to the generosity of others, these students will be servant leaders and peacemakers in our church and our world,” said Father Mink, acknowledging the past support St. Ann parishioners have given to help struggling families keep their children in the parish school, which serves children in grades pre-K3–8.
Father Mink said generosity from the community is especially important since the state of Delaware does not offer a voucher program or any other sort of financial assistance, even though families pay their full share in taxes. He appreciates that students from single parent, under-employed and unemployed families are a priority for assistance.
“The Vision for the Future Fund tells struggling families that the church and her parish families care about their family and want to not only keep them above water, but help their children grow in the Gospel and help create disciples who will one day go out and give what they have received to someone else in need … to ‘pay it forward.’”
In Easton, Md., Father James Nash is equally committed to Catholic school education and enlisting support for the parish school, which serves students in grades pre-K3-12.
“Other schools can develop the mind and body, but only we can develop the spirit as well … We do that whether our students are Catholic or not,” said Father Nash.
Supporting school families is a way of life for members of Ss. Peter and Paul parish, whose generous contributions led to construction of the new high school building that opened on the parish grounds this year. Father Nash said the parish has a history of strong support for the Share in the Spirit campaign, with contributions from many parish members who do not have children in the school.
“Any good Catholic can support the spiritual well-being of students,” he said. “We’re trying to help our kids stay connected as individuals and in a communal way … It’s not just about the individual, but the community, the team,” he said. “In my heart I think it’s important for our kids to have that connection.”
An important part of the connection, says Father Nash, is service – through school projects, as altar servers and cantors, and in other community initiatives.
Madiella Keefer offers a student’s perspective on the importance of service. “Service gives me a chance to give back in my community or to someone that doesn’t have what I have,” says Madiella, an eighth grader at Holy Angels School in Newark. “I like to help. Knowing I have a chance to help someone makes my heart full.”
Madiella’s parents, John and Natalie Keefer share their daughters’ enthusiasm for service as a core Catholic school value.
“It is so important to include service to others as an opportunity to broaden [our children’s] perspective, create empathy, and teach them about the world around them,” said Natalie.
At St. Elizabeth Parish and school in Wilmington, pastor Father Norman Carroll says serving others “makes students aware of people in all different situations.” The school requires 80 hours over a student’s four years in the high school. “All achieve that, and many go way beyond,” said Father Carroll.
He said the school, which serves students in grades pre-K3-12, is a place where an increasing number of students learn about the basics of the Catholic faith for the first time; some have had minimal exposure to church.
“We’re giving them a good foundation, respect, work ethic, dignity,” he said.
Father Carroll described the school as community-minded, a place where it’s hard to hide and students get involved and grow through activities such as sports, service, theater and mock trial. He said he is especially pleased to see many younger parents moving back to the neighborhood and sending their children to the school.
“People have told me they can expect a level of maturity, work ethic and pride [in St. Elizabeth students.] The ideal outcome is to bring out the best in our students,” said Father Carroll.