Parents around the country are preparing their children for the beginning of school. Stores, too, roll out their back-to-school sales on everything from backpacks to running shoes, pens and paper, books and clothes. It’s a rush of activity.
What do we hope that schools will do for our children? The usual answers haven’t changed much over the generations: reading, writing, arithmetic, and other subjects. But looking a little deeper, consider some of the other ways that schools can impact the lives of children as they grow in age and wisdom. They can learn practices of friendship and respect for teachers. They can learn how to work hard at something. And they can learn how to be generous, and use their powers to do something good in the world.
Catholic Extension has partnered with several schools in recent years to teach kids something about generosity. At St. Jerome School in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, fourth graders recently raised $5,885.17 to support St. Andrew’s Church in Eagle River, Alaska. On November 30, 2018, the feast day of the Church, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake badly damaged the church, located only 10 miles from the epicenter. The pastor of St. Jerome, Fr. Tom Brundage, had spent 10 years as pastor of St. Andrew’s, and was eager to help. Offering the fourth graders the opportunity to use their energy to serve others in need taught them an important lesson about being members of a Church spread across the country and across the world.
Similarly, at Blessed Sacrament School in Morton, Illinois, students preparing for First Communion learned about the Ojibwe community on the White Earth Reservation and about the Tekakwitha Center, which offers faith formation to the young people of the region. Blessed Sacrament students filled “Jingle Jars” in their classrooms and sent $300 to support the Center.
Frances Xavier Warde School in Chicago has partnered with Catholic Extension for many years. This year, students supported Rocky Boy Reservation, a home for members of the Chippewa-Cree tribe in northern Montana. Clare D’Agostino, a teacher at the school, organized the Lenten project, giving each student $1 and asked them to return in 40 days with stories about how they grew their dollars. This project invited students to imitate the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30). By the end of Lent, they had raised $2,670.69 to benefit the children’s ministry of Sister Margaret Mary.
Teachers and students in schools like these have seen firsthand what we at Catholic Extension have intuited for years: it makes a difference to work on behalf of others. Catholic schools, in particular, can benefit from offering students an opportunity to learn firsthand what it’s like to practice generosity. Children, who learn by doing, can develop a love for service by thinking creatively about how, through their efforts, they can benefit others.
Catholic schools, the leaders of the Church argued fifty years ago, must be open to the situation of the world we live in. Their efforts can benefit people around the world, even as they prepare them for heaven. In so doing, they become “leaven”—that gospel word which calls to mind the way that even small numbers of people doing good things can transform the world (Gravissimum Educationis, 8).
But Catholic schools are not the only places that have partnered with Catholic Extension. Recently, a public school also partnered with us to support a neighborhood that was dramatically impacted by Hurricanes Maria and Irma in Puerto Rico. The International Club at Amos Alonzo Stagg High School in Palos Hills, IL, raised $500 in recognition of the ways that the Catholic Church on the island served all people, regardless of faith, in the wake of the disasters. They were particularly moved by the story of Fr. Jorge Morales and the parishioners at Our Lady of the Rosary in Vega Baja, who were the first to reach and bring food to the hardest-hit neighborhoods, where many people had lost everything. After the hurricane hit, Fr. Jorge discovered that the phone in the rectory was functioning, so he put up a sign offering free, one-minute calls to the U.S. mainland to anyone. He said people lined up for weeks to make calls and connect with loved ones.
If you work with children in parishes, schools, or in teams or organizations, consider partnering with us to provide them with opportunities to learn the beauty of service to others. Not only will their service benefit those who receive support; it will also teach your children that they have the ability to create good in the world. The quality of mercy is not strained, wrote Shakespeare: it blesses both the giver and the receiver.