In a world polarized by race, gender, religion, politics, and everything in between, our schools continue to be guided by the example of Christ.
St. Mary's High School in Lynn recently invited me to participate in their Wednesday reflections program. First, I was honored to be asked. Second, I suggested that far better people existed to offer a reflection. Both are incontrovertible facts, but the school still graciously invited me to participate even with my mild protest.
Arriving at St. Mary's was truly exhilarating as I had not been inside a school in months. The greatest joy of my work at the Catholic Schools Foundation is visiting schools, meeting students and teachers, and being reminded why Catholic education is vital to those students, their families, and the local community. All of this was on full display as soon as I turned the corner to park in front of the school.
Students were entering the building, clearly excited and engaged. They were entering a campus transformed over the last few years with new facilities created to meet the needs of the growing student population against the backdrop of one of the more economically challenged cities in the Commonwealth. St. Mary's stands as a beacon of what is possible for our young people.
This visit to St. Mary's was also a very personal reminder for me of the late Msgr. John Dillon Day. Msgr. Day was pastor of St. Mary of the Hills Parish in Milton, an assignment he took after years at his beloved St. Mary's in Lynn. It was at St. Mary of the Hills where I knew him as my pastor and, to this day, have fond memories of him handing out report cards, knowing every kid and family by name and being ever-present. In short, he was a good man and an amazing priest who stood as an example of humble and faith-filled service to God. He loved both St. Mary assignments because of the people and the schools connected to them. He firmly believed in Catholic education because he knew it gave people a sense of purpose, community, and direction in life.
Pulling up to St. Mary's High School flooded my mind with memories of Msgr. Day, but one in particular stood out. Years ago, when he was in his 90s, we were chatting about some incidents of criminal behavior by some teens we both knew. Msgr. Day's response was not one of condemnation but rather empathy.
First, he acknowledged the victim in the crime but then focused on the perpetrators involved. He reminded me that Jesus died because we are all sinners and that everyone deserves redemption and to be treated with love and dignity. He was not preaching, but simply reflecting that Jesus died on the cross because we are sinners, and so we must show compassion to one another. This was not the reaction I was expecting, and his response still sits with me today as a reminder that we are always challenged to meet people with love.
Each day, as students walk into St. Mary's and schools across the archdiocese, almost 4,000 of them are only able to attend because of the generosity of donors to the Catholic Schools Foundation, they encounter the crucifix, and more importantly, they learn about the Resurrection. They come to learn their place in this world, to see all people as children of God and to see their responsibility to their fellow person. In short, they learn to meet people with love, as Msgr. Day modeled in his daily life.
In a world polarized by race, gender, religion, politics, and everything in between, our schools continue to be guided by the example of Christ. In our Catholic schools, there is no need to shift from idea to idea in search of the truth, but rather our schools teach students to be critical thinkers who understand the truth of the Gospel. Now more than ever, Catholic schools are critical and worthy of support.
As I walked into the school to offer my reflection, the truth is that St. Mary's shared a reflection with me, and my heart responded. I entered grateful for the opportunity to be part of this vital work of Catholic education and thankful to the generous people who make it all possible. This is their work, and this is our work. Together it is incumbent on us to make life-changing Catholic education possible for generations to come.
Catholic schools change lives. Catholic schools change families. Catholic schools change communities.
- Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, www.CSFBoston.org.
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