Productive mornings create better workdays. Flavorful bouillon makes tastier soup. Committed stretching paves the way for safer exercise.
It’s what I like to call the “well begun, half done” effect.
During the first Mass of each year at my Catholic grade school in Minneapolis, Minnesota, our pastor, Father Francis Pouliot, used this phrase to encourage us to set off on the right foot. If we entered the school year ready to listen, eager to learn and prepared to work hard, the rest would fall into place, he said.
Father Pouliot was on to something. Solid starts generate stronger finishes –– in school, in the office, in sports and in life. It’s tough to rally from behind, it’s hard to mend what’s already broken and making up for lost time is never fun.
I had one childhood that included one grade school experience, and I’m grateful to my parents for giving me a Catholic school education. Once a house is built, it’s difficult –– if not impossible –– to re-build its bedrock. My Catholic school experience provided me the building blocks upon which I’ve built my life. Although I’ve had to do a little interior remodeling along the way, I’ve never wished for a different foundation.
Catholic education offers many benefits, but here are my Top 10:
- A safe, nurturing environment with caring, effective teachers
I remember my grade school teachers as some of the most kind, caring adults I’ve encountered during my life. They were patient, loving, and encouraging. Their classrooms were well-controlled and calm, allowing them to spend more time teaching and less time disciplining.
- Challenging academics and high standards
Writing is one of my favorite things to do to this day, and it started in grade school. I read challenging books about good, true and beautiful things, and I wrote about things that mattered. Everything I learned about English grammar, I learned in 6th grade (not college!). And while I don’t think I could still draw a map of the world, I know where each country is when I hear its name in the news – even Djibouti.
- An emphasis on moral development and leadership grounded in the Catholic faith
The standards for behavior in my school extended beyond respecting others. In Catholic schools, I learned to see Christ in others and treat them as Christ would treat them. My rules were the 10 commandments, and I was encouraged to use my gifts and talents to glorify God and help others.
- A welcoming environment for all students and their parents
In 3rd grade, my family moved, and I had to transfer from one Catholic school to another. Although I moved kicking and screaming (literally), I remember liking my new school from day one. I made instant friends, everyone made an extra effort to include me and my new teacher took me under her wing on day one.
- Development of the whole person –– mind, heart and soul
This may be the most important point on this entire list. Kids can receive a strong academic education at many schools, but Catholic schools purposefully strive to form minds, hearts and souls that seek Christ. I’m glad my teachers taught me how to use my Catholic faith –– instead of the many alternative reference points the world throws at us –– to inform life choices and navigate difficult situations. They kept me on the straight and narrow in a world where it’s too easy to be distracted.
- A focus on service and community involvement
Mr. Rogers from the TV show said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Because of my Catholic school education, I learned how to be a helper –– to my friends, family and school community. I learned from an early age that life was less about me and more about others.
- A family-oriented environment
Parents and younger siblings were always around school –– attending Mass, volunteering, coaching sports teams, helping out on the playground, watching the talent show or the spelling bee and biking in the Marathon. My parents knew my friends’ parents because they had met them at school events. Parents at my school were involved in their kids’ lives, and that translated into involvement with their kids’ school. As students, we learned the importance of honoring and respecting our parents, and we valued their role in our lives.
- Integrated faith formation
My parents were my first and foremost faith teachers, but I shudder to think where I might be faith-wise if the 6-7 hours I spent at school every day never reinforced the Catholic values I was taught at home. In school, I was able to speak about God, write about God, create beautiful religious art and pray without joining a specific club to do so. More importantly, my classmates and teachers were able to join me in these activities.
- Lifelong friendships
I had 14 students in my graduating grade school class. I am still very close friends with 5 of them, meaning I get together with them at least monthly (except when geographical distance keeps us apart).
- A second home
I always felt like my life at school was simply an extension of my life at home. It was a place I enjoyed being. I spent my time with classmates I liked, teachers who made me feel important and confident, and a principal who sent me a chocolate Hershey’s bar on my 13th birthday –– 2 years after I graduated from the school.
Copyright 2016 Maureen Lodoen
About the Author: Maureen Lodoen is a single, Catholic 26-year-old from Minnesota. She is the communications manager and magazine editor at the Catholic Schools Center of Excellence (CSCOE), a nonprofit helping Catholic elementary schools in the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis increase excellence and enrollment. Maureen received a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism – advertising track and an English minor from Creighton University.