I grew up in the Lutheran faith, while relatives on my father’s side were Methodist. Faith mattered. Neither side of the family cared much for the rituals and beliefs of Catholics; those practices seemed mysterious, and that during services Catholics spoke a language I didn’t know (Latin) reinforced that idea. My aunt married a Catholic, but we didn’t talk about that and she did not convert. I attended public schools and knew only one person who attended “the school for Catholics” in town.
Although my husband and I deliberately moved where our children could attend high-performing public schools, the school board arbitrarily rezoned us, forcing our children into a middle school that experienced violence daily. This was unacceptable.
Finding a private school that fit without forcing us into bankruptcy was daunting. It was easy to find schools in the yellow pages, and every school welcomed me when I visited. However, no school seemed like the right fit.
I felt lost, and hopeless. I did not know what to do for my children, a devastating feeling for any parent.
A Door Opened
One day a neighbor asked whether I was going to investigate the new Catholic church and school nearby. I said “No,” because we are not Catholic. She nonetheless persuaded me to go with her to an open house, assuring me that the academic reputation of the school was top notch.
I will never doubt her judgment again.
The people and culture of the school were exactly right. The curriculum was outstanding, and I was assured that non-Catholic students would see the instruction in Catholicism as learning about a major world faith rather than getting religious training.
Just one glitch: My children would be required to attend Mass every Friday. When I asked the priest if he could make an accommodation, he smiled and said, “Do not let your heart be troubled.” He explained that non-Catholics were not invited to take communion in the Catholic church; rather, my children would approach the altar with the other children and receive a blessing. The priest promised there would be no proselytizing, no effort to compel my children to denounce their family church and join the Catholic faith.
I trusted this priest and it was one of the best decisions of my life. My children excelled in the loving, nourishing environment of this school where high academic expectations were coupled with sincere devotion to my children’s success by people of faith.
Every time my children learned something Catholics believe or practice that we do not, we had an opportunity to discuss why we believe something different—and we noted beliefs that we share with Catholics. That was a huge unforeseen advantage that strengthened our faith and taught a valuable lesson in respecting those who do not share our beliefs.
Family concerns subsided after seeing positive academic results, understanding the beauty of my children being around people of faith every day, and realizing that our own faith was not diminished. For us, religion in schooling was not a problem; it was an advantage.
Leslie Hiner ([email protected]) is vice president of programs and state relations at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. This is reprinted from Friedman’s blog, with permission. Image by Ahmed Sajjad Zaidi.