I am a card-carrying member of the Tribe and during my education have attended two Catholic learning institutions: an all-girls Catholic high school and a Jesuit University. Throughout my time in Catholic school I have come to recognize and highly value what a Catholic education has to offer. I am still a proud card-carrying member of the Tribe, who would never consider converting, and I have my own issues with some of the policies and actions of the church, but I truly believe that the merits of a Catholic education outweigh, or rather, don’t relate to the actions and beliefs of the Church.
I must preface this all by saying that my Catholic high school was extremely progressive, located in the metropolitan heart of an extremely liberal city. I have heard horror stories of strict uniforms and Nun’s with rulers, but while that may be some people’s experience, it was never mine. Regardless, I believe that there are certain universal Catholic values taught at every Catholic school that add a depth to education not reached in secular institutions.
My high school was aimed at empowering young women and making them future leaders. There were several required religion courses from Christology, to Hebrew Scriptures, to Comparative World Religions that have comprised some of the most thought-provoking and mind-expanding courses I’ve taken during my education. Contrary to my belief when I entered the school that they would be about converting me, they turned out to be classes with a diverse student body dedicated to expanding the horizons of the students and creating more tolerant and well-rounded citizens. I was also hugely impressed by the school’s dedication to social justice and volunteer work, which came from their Catholic background. I had never been in a school where so many people willingly did volunteer work to help the poor and it was an eye opening and motivating experience I never would have experienced at a school that wasn’t Catholic.
When it came to looking at colleges, after my positive Catholic high school experience I was more than excited to consider non-secular schools. In the end, I chose a Jesuit school over a secular school because I realized I would miss the depth and expansiveness that Catholic values brought to the classroom. At an accepted students weekend I heard a professor give a talk in which he said that at this University they would ask us the hard questions, like does God exist? They are not here to force a religious ideology down our throats but rather to force a dialogue about what religion brings to the world and what it means in conjunction with education. His speech singlehandedly convinced me to attend the University.
In college I discovered the Jesuit order of priests who I wish everyone would get the opportunity to learn from. They are dedicated to knowledge, and educating others. I learned about cura personalis, a hallmark of Ignatian Spirituality meaning care of the whole person. I encountered the concept of men and women for others, a tenant of the Jesuits in which they stress education of the self for the betterment of the world. I also learned that my stereotype of what a devout Catholic was, was completely wrong and totally ignorant and there is no conflict with being highly educated, specifically within the hard sciences, and deeply religious.
A Catholic education creates diversity. It brings people together who are passionate about just about any issue regarding social justice, fosters debate about abortion and gay marriage, and teaches people to listen to each other, to expand their minds, to not judge, and to go into the world with the aim of improving it. Above any religion I believe in morality and spirituality. Education is often devoid of passion and emotion, which can lead to boredom. People learn when they care and are engaged and what I believe a Catholic education provides is more than just typical knowledge taught in a school. It brings spirituality into it, dynamic discussion, and this engages people in a more whole and complete way.
In my Jewish community I have many times been questioned as to why I would willingly immerse myself in an education that is rooted in a religious education that is not my own. My answer is always the same. I value social justice, helping others, dynamic dialogue, spirituality, and challenging myself. So does a Catholic education. When I frame it like that, people often stop asking questions.