Discussion about Catholic education often focuses on how to effectively hand on the Catholic faith to students, but what about parental involvement in passing on the treasures of the faith?
Some Catholic schools are being more intentional about transmitting the faith to parents, knowing the impact that parent faith formation can have on increasing fervor for the Catholic faith in families and schools.
Amanda Livermore is the director of mission effectiveness at Bishop Moore Catholic High School in Orlando, Florida. As a parent herself and an evangelist to the students, faculty and staff, parents, alumni and greater Bishop Moore community, Livermore has seen firsthand how the Catholic identity of a school is impacted by parents taking more seriously their roles as the primary educators of faith.
“Research confirms what the Church has consistently communicated: that parents are the primary educators of their children,” Livermore told the Register.
“At Bishop Moore Catholic, we see ourselves as partners, supporting parents in this mission of ‘domestic church,’ as we work together to get their children to heaven. The Lord has entrusted to us not only the 1,350 students enrolled in our school, but all those with whom we come in contact through this ministry.”
Livermore, with the support of administration and in conjunction with her team of campus ministers, helps make available occasions for contact with entire families, rather than just the students.
“Through these relationships, we are able to meet these parents where they are and provide a variety of opportunities in which they may grow in their own faith,” explained Livermore.
Livermore and her team have several practical ways in which they engage parents in the community. They share student retreat details with parents, asking them to take 10 minutes from their day to pray for their child on retreat and to reflect on retreat-themed questions that serve as a “mini retreat” of their own. They also take advantage of Advent and Lent as a great time to inform parents of ways they can live out liturgical activities, customs and traditions in the home. “Family of Faith” events, in which parents are invited to attend breakfast together, while listening to a speaker address a faith-based topic of interest, have also been helpful in spiritually feeding the adult community at the school.
“Often, parents stay after the event has ended, talking with each other about what they have heard,” Livermore recounted.
“The holy fellowship is an important part of building up the kingdom within our community.”
Overall, Livermore thinks that reaching out to parents and encouraging their growth in faith has a big impact on the school, and their efforts prove to be well-received by parents, too. “Parents are eager to participate and are grateful for the efforts made on their behalf. If we can empower and inspire parents to have holy conversations in the home, students come to school seeing the thread of faith they are learning in the classroom coming alive at the dinner table. It teaches a comprehensive approach to our faith, making it more of a lifestyle.”
Students Inspire Parents
“As a teacher, I have witnessed several examples of children who never make that personal connection with the faith unless it is reinforced at home,” reported Rachele Schoellhammer, a sixth- and seventh-grade teacher of theology and math at Canyon Heights Academy in Campbell, California. “Teaching should be thought of as a ministry for families. I think educators can encourage parents to prioritize the faith at home by living it themselves and being an example for parents and children to see.”
In her years of teaching, Schoellhammer has noticed that being fervent about passing on the faith to her students can have an indirect impact on the parents, describing her students as “inspirational evangelists” to their own mothers and fathers. “Parents will often share with me some aspect of the faith that they learned from their child at school, like the obligation of going to Mass on Sunday, proper tithing, what fasting is or [details about] Marian apparitions. Even parents who don’t know the faith well tend to learn and be inspired,” Schoellhammer has recognized.
Schoellhammer has found that prayer has a powerful effect on student-parent-teacher relationships in a Catholic environment. “I make a weekly visit to the chapel with my students and teach them to pray. As a result, some parents may ask themselves, ‘Am I living out the faith according to my understanding?’”
Partnering with parents in the religious education of students is a top priority of Father Thomas Dufner, pastor at the Church of the Epiphany in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The new program he has developed for Epiphany Catholic School, called “Partnership in Faith,” aims to “form highly educated saints and citizens” with a significant emphasis on renewing the partnership between the Church and parents.
“Since parents are the primary educators of their children, their participation at Sunday Mass, daily prayer and cultivating virtue is necessary for the fruit of Catholic education to take hold,” explained Father Dufner. The program is meant to address three primary issues: parental (and consequently student) faith practice, school funding in light of parish demographics, and curricula, which should be aimed at educating students to become virtuous citizens.
“We are both extremely excited about the ‘Partnership in Faith’ program,” said Robert and Melissa Scalia, parents of three children, two of whom attend Epiphany Catholic School. “As parents we look to our children’s school as a place that will foster a lifelong love of learning and will assist us as parents in teaching truth. With Father Dufner and this program, along with the teachers, we have found a partner to help us raise children that are [being prepared] for eternity.”
The Scalias, who are eager to see the benefits of the classical curriculum that will be implemented in the school as part of the program, are active participants not only at their children’s school, but also at the parish — one of the primary goals of “Partnership in Faith.”
Jane Fabozzi, another school parent who recently completed three and a half years on the school’s advisory committee, sees the program as “a creative way to engage school families to become more involved as a whole in the parish community.” Fabozzi added, “My hope for the ‘Partnership in Faith’ program is that it will be an open door that calls our school families and congregation to recommit as a parish to educate and actively live our Catholic faith.”
With pastors around the country deploring the fact that less than 30% of Catholic-school families attend Mass on Sunday, “Partnership in Faith” offers benefits to school parents who participate in the program, including a decreased “parish partnership” tuition rate, access to expanded financial aid, and early registration access to limited class sizes.
Schools can be a real force for good in this mutual inspiration in faith between parents and students, but, as Katie Danielson, principal of Ave Maria Academy in Maple Grove, Minnesota, said, “Invitation is imperative.”
Danielson advises other administrators, “Find ways to include parents in faith formation and prioritize it with the school calendar. During those back-to-school events, and especially with new families, make a point to emphasize the faith as the backbone of everything the school is about.”
At Ave Maria, Danielson and her faculty and staff utilize or promote programs like “Virtues in Practice” by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville and “Familia” by the Cana Family Institute to strengthen the spiritual lives of the whole families in their community.
“When the faith is a part of home life, students have a deeper awareness of and appreciation for the Mass, confession, adoration and all the incorporations of the liturgical calendar into the school day,” Danielson mentioned.
“Faith provides the worldview we need to become the people we were created to be. Without the example of parents, children have a hard time seeing that connection between faith and daily living.”
Finally, in response to what every Catholic school can do to better minister to families, Danielson advised, “We should pray regularly for families. This unity in prayer can provide the spiritual backbone a community needs in today’s culture.”