By Mary Annette Dworshak, SNJM
What is a Catholic school? Some might say it is a building with a cross on top of the dome and where religion classes are taught. Others might say a Catholic school is a place where immigrants have found a pathway to inclusion in society. Others might say a Catholic school is an environment where students are challenged to achieve their potential.
Before I answer this question, let me tell you a story. For my parents, a Catholic school meant so much to them that they sold their Montana ranch and moved to the town of Miles City so that my sister Bernadette and I could attend Sacred Heart Grade School and High School. My father, whose own education ended with his eighth-grade graduation, worked in a produce warehouse and later for the Milwaukee Railroad so that the Ursuline and Dominican Sisters would educate his daughters.
For my mother, a former one-room country school teacher, commitment to her faith meant so much that she said "yes" to becoming one of the first lay teachers at Sacred Heart. My mother was my third-grade teacher in a room packed with more than 50 students. Throughout my years at Sacred Heart, Mom immersed me in community service long before there was any thought of whether it counted for religion credit or not. She instructed me in how to alphabetize papers, put up bulletin boards, play the piano for her class songs and later help with correction of spelling quizzes.
Beginning with this family story, I have learned that a Catholic school is a community of persons from many different geographical, cultural and religious backgrounds who share a belief in a better future for our families and for the world. We risk finances, careers and relationships to make a contract with others to “bring about a revolution of the heart” in the spirit of Dorothy Day.
We're now beginning a new semester at Holy Names Academy in Seattle, where I teach. As I look back on the impressive scores students achieved on our first semester final exams in World Cultures, Scripture Literature, Morality/Service and Contemporary Problems, I think of Paul's letter to the Corinthians (I Cor. 1:1-13). These academic achievements, along with dozens of community service hours, are "a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" if we do not have love.
And what does love look like? Love is respectful in posts in our social media interactions. “Love is not arrogant or rude” in our comments. Love is patient, listening attentively to those with different points of view. Love is hopeful as a new year begins, with all its fear and violence. Love negotiates hour after hour online and face-to-face to bring an issue to the attention of others; love works together to analyze the causes of injustice; love moves to undertake action to improve education, housing and opportunities for others.
Love learns that as a child, I thought of "me" first, but now as an adult, I realize that I have sisters and brothers in many places and all are welcomed around the Earth table.
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘This is my commandment: love one another as I love you’” (Jn. 15:12-16). This is the pulse beat within the call to “bring about a revolution of the heart.” We in our Catholic schools may often receive the “A” for doing the works of charity, but are we converted at the deeper interior level to this kind of radical love relationship that exists between Jesus and his Father, and between our Creator and us?
What is involved in daring to open ourselves to this ongoing revolution in our hearts? Let us pause for a moment of silence to reflect on what it means to welcome a revolution of God’s love into our hearts.
Are we willing to take that step today by pondering the words of Pope Francis? “God's mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (cf. Ez 37:1-14). ... Let us be renewed by God's mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish" (Easter Urbi et Orbi message on March 31, 2013).
Adapted from Sr. Mary Annette Dworshak’s address at Catholic Schools Week Liturgy, Holy Names Academy, Seattle, WA on Jan. 26, 2017.
In the photo: Holy Names Academy students carry necessities to people in need as part of the Urban Plunge in Seattle.