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 | Alison Blanchet

Our Families Are the First ‘Catholic Schools’

Bringing a toddler to Mass definitely leads me deeper into prayer — but not the contemplative kind. The prayers I utter when we bring our three-year-old to Mass are usually, “Please, don’t let her reach the altar before I catch her in a sprint!” Or “Please, don’t let this be the weekend she topples the holy water font she keeps trying to climb.” There’s nothing quite like trying to simultaneously pray and keep a three-year-old from destroying the hymnals.

We enjoy attending Mass as a family, but the toddler’s antics — all age appropriate, still exhausting — sometimes have us dividing and attending a vigil and a morning mass so we can worship with the older kiddos with our full attention to the liturgy. However, our youngest recently showed us that she’s learning more than we realize.

One especially exhausting morning when the little bean climbed the pews, knocked on the windows and tried to illustrate the missal with a left-behind pencil, she eventually joined me to receive a blessing when I received Holy Communion. Squirming out of my grasp, I expected that she was going to once again try to climb the steps of the sanctuary. Much to my surprise, she instead planted herself in front of our deacon who was distributing Holy Communion and held out her hands, expectantly.

Of course she isn’t receiving holy communion yet, but she keeps trying. Every Sunday she approaches the altar, hands outstretched. She receives a blessing and then returns to the pew, attempts the sign of the cross and folds her “prayer hands” like her parents and siblings.

In January we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, but moments like this remind me that our families are the first “Catholic schools” we will attend. Parents know all too well that kids seem to never stop listening and watching the adults in their world — and can sometimes repeat what they’ve heard or seen in the most inopportune moments! — making our witness of faith critical.

Long before our children set foot in a classroom, they are paying close attention to what their parents, grandparents and other important adults in their life place as their priorities. Pausing to pray before meals, making time to stop in a Church and visit the Blessed Sacrament and scheduling a time to attend Mass — even when our favorite team is playing or we have an early tee time — are all small acts that give the consistent message that our faith isn’t just another club or activity — it’s the foundation of everything else we do.

Even at the tender and sometimes chaotic age of three, our toddler has watched us enough at Mass to realize that something very important happens when we approach the altar for Holy Communion — something she’s already trying to participate in herself.

When we make preparations throughout the week to prioritize worship, we’re giving the children in our world an important witness about what is important. Whether they’re part of our family or the kiddos who watch us from the pew a few rows back each Sunday — at some point a child will be watching your example!

Alison Blanchet lives in Panama City with her husband and three children. She works as a therapist for children and teens. Email her at