Father Paul D. MacNeil, pastor of Precious Blood of Christ Church in Pawleys Island and chaplain to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School, blesses a student during a school Mass in this file photo.
Catholic Schools: A Legacy for All
Growing up, my academic years had a combination of Catholic and public education or, what we would call today, hybrid. From my time in kindergarten to high school, I attended Catholic school in the morning and was enrolled in public sports and enrichment courses in the afternoon. I experienced my whole academic life in antagonistic educational settings, imbued with friends from the most affluent to the least fortunate.
Ten years ago, I found myself teaching an elective course to sixth-graders at St. Anne School in Rock Hill. It wasn’t a core subject with formal curriculum, but, as with all electives, that course helped students discover their strengths by affording them opportunities to expand their abilities and interests. I enjoyed that time in the classroom, and I dove into the experience of observing firsthand the development of students in creative and fun-filled classes.
In both stages of my life — first as a student and then as a teacher — I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the depth of faith I gained. Later in life, I truly appreciated the strict rules that kept my focus on God as a student. As a teacher, I recognized and understood the reasons behind the scenes, and especially the passion that motivated my instructors to pass on the golden knowledge to stay on the path to heaven.
My challenge now is to transmit the benefits and results from my educational enterprise, enriched by my prayerful reflection as a student and as a teacher. Emphasis on my vocation in life would be a mistake. Priesthood is my vocation, my response to God’s constant call. My vision of the inexhaustible source of God’s presence everywhere and in every human being is, perhaps, the best attribute acquired throughout my pluralistic education.
In Catholic education, a child is taught in all human dimensions to become an effective fulcrum of goodness and holiness. Catholic education, therefore, is not a commodity for the elite or exclusive for Christians, but indeed offered, open and accessible to everyone, insofar as they accept the priceless treasure of the Catholic way of life. Pope Francis, in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, puts it this way: “Catholic schools, which always strive to join their work of education with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel, are a most valuable resource for the evangelization of culture” (EG 134).
I witnessed the struggles some of my friends endured in life, simply because of what they didn’t receive in their education. Complementing the role of my parents in raising me, my years in Catholic school added indispensable attributes in creativity, language ability, critical and analytical skills, commitment and respect for all peoples and, in particular, reverence for life and all living things. No effort should be spared in guaranteeing any child to be part of this Catholic legacy — the Catholic school — a sanctuary of education where Christ is the center, enlightening and inspiring us.
Oratorian Father Fabio Refosco, VF, is the chaplain of St. Anne High School in Rock Hill and pastor of St. Philip Neri Church in Fort Mill.