When I was young, I took for granted the blessing of growing up in a large extended Catholic family.
My father was one of 10 children — there were eight brothers and two sisters — and by the time they grew up and married, I had a total of 53 first cousins. When we would gather on my grandparent’s farm, whether it was for a Sunday visit or special holiday, we always prayed the rosary right after we ate and then played and ran the farm with our cousins.
The memories that were created connected us as family then and still keep us connected today. My extended family continued to evolve over the years, changing and growing as my cousins married and started their own families. Some of my second and third cousins I might not even recognize now, but they are still family and that immediate connection is life-giving. Relationships create bonds and those bonds are forever etched in our hearts.
As we start back to school with the vestiges of the past year not quite in the rearview mirror, it is our Catholic communities that can continue to give us the strength and support we need to take care of our Catholic family — whether they be a child in the classroom or an elderly parishioner isolated from the larger faith family.
The Catholic communities we call home have been impacted greatly in the last 18 months by the pandemic. We were isolated from one another, separated from the place we knew as our “home” and separated from our church and school family. How will we rebound from these last 18 months? What will the 2021-22 school year bring for us, our children, our families?
I believe we first must begin rebuilding relationships and reinvesting in the life of our parish and school communities. Our children need stability and support to begin to reconnect to their God and their faith. They need the support system in the larger parish community that we know will form the foundation for success in the classroom.
In Catholic schools, our mission is to educate the whole child. If we have found out anything during the pandemic, it is that we cannot do it alone in isolation, in front of a screen. We need our Catholic community, our Catholic family.
Our Catholic school students have always excelled academically. This summer we have been preparing our teachers and principals to re-engage our students in learning. We are asking that they take special care to be laser-focused on what each student needs to intervene appropriately to ensure they are academically successful in 2021-22.
Undoubtedly, those student needs will vary and our teachers will be prepared to continue to identify and respond with additional strategies and approaches learned over the summer. I am extremely grateful for their continued commitment to Catholic education.
My prayer for the 2021-22 school year is that we will find a way to reconnect with both our parish and school communities by investing in our children and building on the excellence we have experienced in the past with a renewed sense of hope. We are anticipating what we can become when we work toward a common goal, etching on the hearts of our children what living the life of a Catholic Christian is all about. Pope Francis says it most eloquently in this quote from “Let us Dream: The Path to a Better Future.”
He writes, “We need a movement of people who know we need each other, who have a sense of responsibility to others and to the world. We need to proclaim that being kind, having faith, and working for the common good are great life goals that need courage and vigor; while the glib superficiality and the mockery of ethics have done us no good.”
I invite you to be the movement your parish and school communicates by showing up on Sunday and at school and parish events, creating the communities of faith we know our children need in our world today.
Dr. Mary Beth Bowling is the Superintendent of Schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville Office of Catholic Schools.