Two years ago I made the decision to leave behind a lucrative career in public relations to pursue a teaching vocation. I call it a vocation, because there is no doubt that God had been calling me to this ministry long before I finally realized it. There was no question then, as there is no question now, that I belong in Catholic schools. This knowledge and desire does not stem from an “us” and “them” mentality, but from my own experience as a product of a Catholic education. Catholic schools and their sense of community were a second home for me–the places that helped my parents set my academic and spiritual foundation and helped me grow into the woman I am today. It was in the classrooms of a Dominican elementary school, a Jesuit high school, a Jesuit undergraduate university, and a Jesuit graduate university that I grew in the academic competence to step into my own classroom in the footsteps of so many religious and lay men and women who taught me and inspired me. My twenty-five years as a student in Catholic schools taught me the values of compassion, integrity, honesty, and commitment. Perhaps the most important lessons did not come from textbooks, but from the men and women who tirelessly dedicated themselves to ensuring that we (the students) were cared for, safe, and in the knowledge of how special we were in God’s eyes. Most importantly, in their words and actions–in their relationships with students–they embodied the love of Christ in a palpable way. At thirty years old, I can remember those moments when the Dominican Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary (Philippines Order) helped me understand how to use my talents, I can remember when the Jesuits taught me to strive for justice and peace and seek the heart of God in all things, and I can remember when each of those men and women showed me they cared for the me beyond the academics.
Now, I am in their shoes. I have the privilege to teach 115 beautiful senior girls and 55 junior girls at a local Catholic high school. I am five months into a job I love–teaching students that have captured my heart in a way I never expected would happen. What I feared about becoming a teacher is the very thing that keeps me going. I care…maybe too much sometimes, but I wouldn’t change that. As I sat in the gym during our first school liturgy, my heart was filled with a sense of gratitude that I have never felt before. It is an honor to be part of the lives of these young women. As a Religious Studies teacher, I have the two-fold task of preparing them academically but also aiding in their spiritual growth and development. Being in a small Catholic school allows me to be for them what so many teachers were for me–an educator, a role model, and even sometimes that friend that will lend an ear when it’s needed and will share her heart if it’s wanted.
There is something uniquely special about Catholic schools. They provide, to paraphrase Thomas Lickona, an education of the head, heart, and hands. Catholic schools help students grow in the knowledge that will impact their future lives, in the values that will guide them, and in the spirituality and faith that will ground and sustain them. It is where I see God at work each day in the smiles and hugs of my students and in their tears and concerns about the future. I see God in them and pray that through the person I am and the teacher I strive to be daily, they will see the joy of God’s love in me. It is with joy that I walk into the school each day and greet my students and savor each moment of this ministry. Unbeknownst to them they, too, minister to me and that is a joy for which no amount of thanks could ever be enough.
This piece originally published at Catholica Omnia as a guest piece celebrating Catholic Schools Week.