Today, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of New York, visits St. Mary, Mother of the Church School in Fishkill, offering Mass and hosting a brief Q&A with the students. The occasion? National Catholic Schools Week, a yearly celebration of United States Catholic education. Schools across the country, from pre-k through high school, mark the event with everything from special Masses to open houses.
Having attended Catholic school for literally all my educational career (St. Aloysius in Hopewell Junction for nursery through kindergarten; St. Denis-St. Columba in Hopewell for grade school; Our Lady of Lourdes in Poughkeepsie for high school; and Fairfield University, a Jesuit institution, for college), I’ve seen my fair share of Catholic Schools Weeks. Some memories stand out more than others. Here are the top four:
Mention the phrase “Catholic Schools Week” to anyone who’s lived one and they immediately think of art. Every student — regardless of artistic talent — was commissioned to draw or paint a masterpiece embodying what Catholic education meant to him or her. I shudder remembering my embarrassing attempts, which often ended up soaked through with gobs of paint that never really dried or full of holes courtesy of too much pencil pressure. Banners, portraits, haiku poems and accompanying illustrations of crosses, kids holding hands with each other, their teachers — even Jesus Himself — covered every spare wall. The school needed all this art so it could be sufficiently decorated for the…
Parents of both current and prospective students — as well as the prospective students themselves — are invited into the hallowed halls to get a taste of the Catholic school system. For the current student however, it can mean one of two things: A visiting child who sat in your seat drew scribbles on your desk and tore pages from your notebooks, rendering your space completely trashed (this also happened throughout the year when CCD kids attended night classes, but that’s a story for another day); or your desk became a treasure trove of things people left behind, like a box of crayons, a neat Spider-man eraser, or a love note addressed to Billy. Once I even found five dollars, no lie.
It goes without saying that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is incorporated into the weeklong celebration. But these Masses were kicked up a notch. There were extra readings written by the top English teachers at the beginning and conclusion of Mass. Students had to audition to recite them. Some kids received the honor of bringing up gifts to the altar. (The best of these gifts was, of course, the bread and wine, which would be transformed into the body and blood of Jesus.) But during Catholic Schools Week, students offered much more than that. We presented textbooks, symbolizing the knowledge we absorbed in class. We offered the aforementioned artwork and poetry as a symbol of our talents. Once, we even offered a dove (no not a live one, he was plastic), representing the Holy Spirit’s presence in our school. Those who placed these gifts on the altar reveled in the privilege. Those who remained in the pews willed them to do it slowly, for the extra gifts meant a longer Mass. And a longer Mass meant less class time.
The number one best part of Catholic Schools Week was the day we were permitted to come into school in regular clothes. Usually held on Friday, students gleefully left their plaid-checked skirts, itchy vests, and knee-length socks in their drawers and come to school in jeans. Jeans! And bedazzled T-shirts! (Ok, that was usually just me.) For this one day, we were able to call our friends and plan our outfits the night before. What a thrill to walk the halls, parading our personal style. Thank you, Catholic Schools Week. Thank you.