Long before my husband, Mark, and I had kids, we had discussions about whether we wanted to send them to Catholic or public school. Actually, the conversation started during our marriage preparation, when we were encouraged to talk about potential areas of disagreement that we could encounter in our marriage down the road. Now, in hindsight, I can see what a good idea it was that we started the conversation earlier rather than later. That’s because later there definitely was a lot to talk about.
Always in the background of these discussions was the realization, by both of us, that despite our different experiences, we were both blessed with the opportunity of a strong education. Mark and I knew the reality that not everyone has the luxury of even having the debate that we were when it comes to issues regarding education.
Our discussions continued until it was finally time to enroll our oldest daughter, Maddie, in school. Now the rubber was hitting the road, and we had to make a decision.
Two Different Paths
To provide some background, I am a product of Catholic schools. I attended our parish school for grade school, followed by high school and college at schools established by the Sisters of Charity. Mark, on the other hand, attended local public schools for the entirety of his education, including college.
Grade school, I rationalized to Mark, was where I felt that I had developed my faith base. It was also when I received many of the sacraments. That strong foundation was important to me. He countered that he had also established a strong base regarding his faith in his weekly religious education classes held at his parish.
After much discussion, we came to an agreement that the kids would go to Catholic grade school and public high school. What that plan didn’t account for, however, was the community the kids would build with their classmates. When it came time for high school, they didn’t want to stray from the Catholic educational path they were on.
The Gift of Community
And so, we tightened our belts a little bit more and sent them to private schools. I’ll be honest, when I saw the wide variety of classes offered at the public high school, I did question whether or not we were making the best decision in terms of their education. In hindsight, though, I know we made the right decision because what our kids gained was a sense of community. They gained it through things like school Masses, retreats, looking at world and social issues through a religious lens, and more.
I asked my kids what they liked about going to Catholic school. My daughters all pointed to the aspect of community. (My son, Alex, gave a classic teenage boy answer and said uniforms, because it meant less time when he got ready in the morning. He agreed about the community aspect, too, though.)
By the time you read this, my daughter Riley will either be getting ready for or taking part in her senior retreat with some of her classmates. I hope she will find it as inspiring as I did when I went on mine all those years ago. What I do know, though, is that she will be surrounded by her community.