The following blog was contributed by Eileen Mostyn, a senior at the University of Notre Dame and summer intern for the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).
From the time I entered preschool at age three, up until now, as I prepare to begin my senior year of college, Catholic education has been a constant in my life. In fact, I’ve never known any other form of education. During that time, I have found that there are many features of Catholic education that don’t change much, no matter your grade level. There was a crucifix hanging in my kindergarten classroom, in my high school chemistry lab, and in my university lecture halls. I have been regularly attending Mass with classmates for eighteen years. Every school cafeteria and dining hall in which I’ve eaten has been meat-free on Fridays in Lent.
There is one particular thing that has been present in every level of my Catholic education, however, which I feel has made the greatest impact on the person I am today, and the person I will continue to grow to be: service. Throughout my life, I have been raised knowing the importance of serving others in everything that I do. All of my teachers and school administrators impressed upon my classmates and me the idea that if we wanted to be servants of God, we must first be servants to others. From food drives to visits to nursing homes, service has been central to every school community of which I’ve been a part.
Even now, in my upper-level economics classes, our professors encourage us to consider the results of our decisions. Is the economically efficient outcome always the best moral outcome? How do we make sound economic decisions, while also doing as much good as possible? There is a larger sense of responsibility in these questions than in the question of whether I could bring canned goods into school for the food drive, but the central question remains the same as it always was: how can I use what I have and what I know to serve other people? My Catholic education prepared me to be able to think carefully about these questions, and helped cultivate in me a desire to find the answers and live my life in service to others.
Through Catholic education, we are able to do so much more than just share knowledge with students; we are able to share values with them which will shape who they grow up to be. The values that were shared with me from the time I was three years old are certainly still with me. My elementary school’s motto is central to my belief system to this day: “Serving God Through Serving Others”. Importantly, I was not only exposed to these words, but to teachers, school leaders, priests and parents who truly lived them. I feel very fortunate to have been raised by and around so many people who were constantly striving to live their lives in service to others. Without their example, the words telling me the importance of service would have been meaningless.
The way we teach our children matters. As people involved in Catholic education, we have the very important, and very exciting, role of shaping the minds and hearts of tomorrow’s leaders. Catholic educators everywhere are doing the amazing work of showing children how they can live out this call to service. It is through the action of service, an action which is central to the mission of Catholic education, that we are able to teach our children how to be servants of God by being servants of others.