Authentic Identity in Catholic Education

The following blog was contributed by Emma Ladwig, a senior majoring in marketing at the University of Notre Dame and a summer intern with the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a common question, and one I have asked myself (and been asked) countless times. As a college student, I now hear it phrased differently, perhaps in questions like “what are your plans after graduation?” or “what jobs are you interviewing for?” or something else along those lines. No matter how it is asked, though, the crux of the inquiry is the same. The question is focused on what role I will play, what my title will be, and what responsibilities I will have.

This question of what we want to be is ever present in our conversations since early childhood—and it’s an important one. Our job and the responsibilities we have are often our means for providing for ourselves and contributing to the betterment of society. But I argue that there is another question, seldom asked and seldom answered, which is also important for us to ask ourselves and the youth with whom we work: who are you going to be when you grow up?

Beyond our titles and responsibilities, we are each called by name to be people who reflect Christ in our work. Whether we work as a CEO, school nurse, teacher, custodian, principal, secretary, superintendent or intern, our roles are what we do—not necessarily who we are. As a community that strives to cultivate minds and souls, our witness of living who we are called to be by God is essential. Ideally, our jobs should be extensions of our nature and purpose as sons and daughters, but fruitful membership in the body of Christ should always be our primary goal regardless of our occupations at any time.

As an intern at NCEA this summer, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing how employees across the association integrate their identity as Catholics with their roles within the workplace. Every morning, we begin with prayer to recall the importance of starting our day in the presence of God, realizing our entire lives and every part of the workday is ordained by Him and for the advancement of His kingdom on earth.

Throughout the rest of the day, I have the opportunity to learn from the people with whom I work. The individuals at NCEA have already taught me many lessons about what it means to be true to whom God has authentically created them to be, simply by working in accordance with the traits God gave them and the Christian identity that guides their lives. I have seen a servant leader who strives to listen and asks the important questions. I have experienced the joyful kindness of a long-time employee. I have learned from an incredibly knowledgeable individual who acts with humility and helpfulness. I have discovered nuances of the association because of a thoughtful coworker who followed up after working with me.

I don’t just work with directors, representatives, coordinators, and managers. I work with people of service, joy, humility, patience and peace. These differences may seem like small things, but living a Christian life is often about the small, silent things that pull hearts slowly and surely heavenward.

Though subtle, these small movements are not lost on students, and I posit that they are instrumental in creating an environment where children are reminded of the importance of using their distinct natures and qualities to glorify God. How wonderful would it be if they notice how a teacher has made them feel welcome and try to imitate that trait when a new child joins the class? How rewarding would it be if they witness their custodian’s positive attitude and think to emulate that when they work on a tough assignment? When we talk to children about their future, how wonderful would it be if they mention their desire to be saints, to be people of praise, and to be servants of their parish and community in addition to serving in various jobs or roles?

Although I doubt that the question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” will change, I do have faith that Catholic education is asking the question, “who do you want to be when you grow up?” through the actions of school staff, parents, clergy and religious. As we seek to educate our children to be both citizens of our world and citizens of Heaven, then, it is our duty to continue walking in a way that fulfills the work God has prepared for each of us.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10 RSVCE