The following is an excerpt from an address by Pope Benedict XVI to Catholic…
Catholic graduates are called to be a collective force for good
As the school year wraps up, tens of thousands of Catholic high school graduates are preparing to move on to the next stage of their lives, whether that’s college, the workforce or the military. But wherever they go, their teachers and administrators will be hoping the Catholic values they worked to instill in those young people will have prepared the Class of 2019 to be a collective force for good in the world.
“We want our folks, no matter what they do, whether they go to Harvard or Yale, we want them to be people who are active in their faith life, serving their Church, serving their local communities and active in civic engagement,” said Peter Shaughnessy, the principal of Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts.
Shaughnessy and other Catholic educators across the country told Our Sunday Visitor that they are more optimistic than ever given that the current generation of Catholic students have demonstrated a genuine interest in serving others and speaking out for the weak and vulnerable in society.
“This particular generation that’s coming up now tends to be very service-oriented,” Shaughnessy said. “Maybe less doctrinal, but very much oriented toward action, service and living their faith.”
‘We’re forming saints’
Well aware that various sociological surveys indicate that many young Catholics stop attending Mass after confirmation and frequently are identifying as having no religious affiliation, educators say the character and faith formation that students receive in Catholic schools is more important than ever.
“We have a little mantra: We’re forming saints; that’s our goal,” said Father Joseph Bongard, the president and rector of Roman Catholic High School, an all-boys Catholic school in downtown Philadelphia.
Father Bongard told OSV that in recent years his school has revamped its faith-formation program to emphasize the curriculum’s Catholicity.
“We don’t want them to just have a knowledge of the Faith. Basically our goal is to prepare our young men for eternal life,” Father Bongard said. “I know that sounds a little lofty, but this is about how are they to become witnesses to the Faith, how they are to become followers of Christ, not just by knowledge but by action.”
Jim Rigg, the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago, said he also hopes the young people who will be graduating from local Catholic high schools this year will prove themselves to be men and women for others.
“My hope is that they would be people who are ready to make a positive difference to the world around them — in many ways to set the world on fire with service, with faith, with compassion and with hope,” Rigg said. “When I talk about service to others, when I talk about inspiring a vision of hope, that really emerges out of our mission, our vocation to go forward and spread the love of Jesus Christ to a world that desperately needs it.”
More to life than success
While adding that they want their alumni to attend good colleges and enjoy professional success, Catholic school teachers and administrators emphasized that there is more to life than scoring well on the SATs, making the dean’s list or earning decent money after college.
“We hope they follow their vocation and not necessarily a career, whatever God is calling them to do,” said Steph Dameron, an English teacher at St. Mary’s Ryken High School in Leonardtown, Maryland.
Dameron, who is teaching at her alma mater, told OSV that she hopes the graduating seniors will be courageous, stand up for what they believe in, have honor and treat those around them with respect.
“I also hope that they will have a deep love of their faith, whether it’s Catholicism or Christianity in a much broader sense,” Dameron said. “I hope they really understand their religion and how it’s such a huge part of our lives, not necessarily from an educational standpoint, but that our purpose in life is not just to get a good job.”
Father Brian Kean, the principal of Pope John Paul II High School in Royersford, Pennsylvania, hopes that his school’s graduating seniors will better understand who they are as people created by God.
“And that they know what their unique gifts and qualities are, and how as disciples they are really called to use those gifts and qualities, especially Christian values, to make a difference in the world,” Father Kean said.
“My hope would be that they continue to live out their Catholic faith, that they will see that a relationship with the Lord Jesus makes them a better person, and then not to be afraid to share their Catholic faith and their Catholic values as they go off to college with those around them and continue practicing that,” Father Kean said.
Amanda Tarantelli, a campus minister and theology teacher at Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, hopes her seniors will discern God’s plan for them, whether that’s marriage, the priesthood or the consecrated life.
“Hopefully we’ve instilled that in them to know that God has a plan for them, that they should try to line up their dreams with what God has planned for them,” said Tarantelli. “I see so much love in them, and I see so much compassion and a drive to be great people. They have so much greatness inside them that I can’t wait to see how they will use that to benefit the rest of the world.”
Big hopes, dreams
Catholic administrators in the K-8 schools also work hard to establish a foundation they hope will later benefit their young charges. They have big hopes and dreams for those future Catholic school graduates as well.
“The Church right now, more than ever, needs these young people,” Andrew Raposo, the principal of Espirito Santo Parochial School in Fall River, Massachusetts, told OSV. “A lot of people doubt the power of youth. Well, I work with kids all day long, and you’d be amazed at the amazing things they’ll do when given the opportunity.”
Dominican Sister Mary Jacinta, the principal at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School in Kennesaw, Georgia, said her first hope is that the children in her school will have a solid sense of their identity as a child of God.
“And with that knowledge and that commitment to that identity, that they will be able to seek out and live according to God’s plan for them in all areas of their lives,” Sister Jacinta said, “and that their faith life will blossom, be given expression concretely in all that they say and do, in their interactions in high school and beyond.
Brian Fraga is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.