Up to the challenge: Catholic schools instill love of service in their students Print
Written by Mary Uhler   
Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

Back in 1993, my husband suffered from a herniated disc and had difficulty walking. Our son, then age 15, spent most of the summer taking care of his dad.

Looking back, I realize our son probably didn’t have as much time for fun activities with his friends that summer. He also had a part-time job, so much of his time was spent taking care of his dad or working. Yet I don’t remember hearing any complaints. Our son did it all cheerfully.

Service part of Catholic school education

I think part of the reason for our son’s acceptance of these responsibilities was due to his Catholic school education, at Our Lady Queen of Peace Elementary School and at Edgewood High School of the Sacred Heart (EHS), both in Madison. Service was part and parcel of Catholic education.

For example, Edgewood requires 100 hours of service as a graduation requirement. According to the school, the majority of EHS students more than double this requirement, with some giving more than 1,000 hours of service during their high school years.

As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week January 26 to February 1, Catholic schools are being challenged to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this observance by pledging 40 hours of service to their local communities. The challenge has been issued by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Motivated by faith

Service is one aspect of the theme of Catholic Schools Week: “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge, and Service.”  As we know, faith is the motivation for service to others.

Christ himself said the greatest commandment is to love God and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.  Our neighbor includes all those we encounter in our lives.

However, those who especially need our love include the disabled, sick, elderly, poor, and imprisoned. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “The duty of making oneself a neighbor to others and actively serving them becomes even more urgent when it involves the disadvantaged, in whatever area this may be. ‘As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’” (Mt. 25:40).

Inspired by Pope Francis

Pope Francis gives our Catholic school students inspiration for their service to others in many of his messages.

On January 20, the Holy Father made a pastoral visit to Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish on the outskirts of Rome, in an area filled with migrants, refugees, homeless persons, and itinerants. The pope met with members of the parish, including some of the homeless persons.

In his homily at a Mass at the parish, Pope Francis reminded the people that Jesus was “full of love, close to the small, close to the poor: he was there among the people.”

As students in Catholic schools learn more about the life of Jesus and the example of our Holy Father, they should be inspired to a life of service, to helping others in their own school, parish, family, neighborhood, and community.

Up to the challenge

I believe our Catholic schools will be up to the challenge set by the NCEA and USCCB. Many of our schools will do at least 40 hours of service during Catholic Schools Week and will log many more hours during the rest of the school year.

Watch for Catholic school students helping at local food pantries, shoveling snow for the elderly, collecting blankets and warm clothing for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, or volunteering at a home for senior citizens.

These students will be learning how to love their neighbors — a lesson that should last a lifetime as they continue to love and serve others beyond their graduation day.