Making the switch: Families find blessings in shifting from public to Catholic schools

The Lord, indeed, works in mysterious and wonderful ways – and this year, several families, having moved their children from public to Catholic schools, are seeing many unexpected blessings that have come from making the switch. 

Nicole and John Stephan both attended Catholic schools growing up, but up until this year, their daughters, Hailey and Sydney, both attended public schools. The plan was to have them attend public for the lower grades and later attend a Catholic high school. The pandemic and other things happening in the girls’ public schools altered their plans a bit and has brought many blessings as a result.  

Even though they’d planned for years to have Hailey switch to a Catholic high school for her freshman year, the new Bishop Machebeuf student has found her move to a Catholic school a very positive one.  

“You have the opportunity to go to Mass,” Hailey said. “The other day, I went into the chapel with friends and we said the rosary together. It was so amazing because we were just sitting together in the chapel praying and it was just NORMAL.”   

Hailey really likes how prayer is infused throughout the day and says there are many wonderful role models for her at Bishop Machebeuf who are helping her.   

“My faith has grown by seeing other people who are good examples. It’s helping me grow in my faith,” she explained. 

She shared the experience of having the school chaplain, Father Julio, come into her classroom and hand every student a rosary, then blessing them all. Another time, she said, “Father was walking all around the school with the monstrance and he stopped by every class.”  

These moments to deepen and enrich her faith are having a big impact on Hailey. The opportunity to be at a school where the Blessed Sacrament is being carried reverently from classroom to classroom and students can see and pray in the presence of Christ is something to be truly treasured.  

After their parents switched them from public to Catholic schools, Hailey (left) and Sydney (right) Stephan have both expressed they are gaining a deeper understanding of their faith and are experiencing the foundational resilience that comes with learning what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God. (Photo provided)

Knowing they didn’t want fifth-grader Sydney in remote learning this year, it was the perfect time for the Stephans to make the switch to Catholic schools for both daughters. Even though the girls had attended strong public schools, Nicole says they noticed a difference right away.  

“Sydney came home one day and said, ‘I learned about adoration today. I learned how to do it because my teacher led us and showed us how to do it.’ To have someone lead you, especially as a child, that’s transformational in how you view adoration,” said Nicole.  

Sydney says she feels the difference. “I understand my faith better and feel like I’m learning more about prayer. I grew closer to God through participating in adoration,” said Sydney.  

Nicole says the other big reason they wanted to enroll their daughters in a Catholic school is because of the sex education curriculum being taught in their former public schools, a program Nicole says “scared me” and confuses kids about gender as God designed it.  

“I am concerned about the gender ideology and disregard for human life that is included in these middle school discussions,” Nicole said. “I personally believe strongly that we have to remind our children who they are and affirm them in their gender. I think that is probably my number one relief to have my kids out of public school. I don’t want my kids to be unrelatable here on earth but at some point, they need a solid foundation on which to stand in regards to the basic truths.”  

That’s what she and her husband want for their girls to receive at Bishop Machebeuf and Blessed Sacrament – to be in an environment where their girls will learn truth and beauty and goodness, including who they are as males and females, made in the image and likeness of God.  

Hundreds of other parents have also made the switch from their public schools to Catholic schools this year, many because of the pandemic and the impact it had on their former schools. 

After two “not so great” years for their daughter in a public school, Julie and David Ites switched their daughter, Harper, to St. Louis Catholic School in Lousiville this year. Julie says she sees a huge difference in the two schools and in her daughter, who is now a second grader.  

“My daughter is actually excited to go to church now and can recite the prayers with ease,” Julie said. “I feel like this has given her more confidence overall. She is also excited to share prayers and talk about her faith to us and her friends, which is really exciting to see. I also feel that the curriculum is much more advanced.” 

Brian and Molly Zinzi also made the choice to move their boys, Austin (second grade) and Liam (kindergarten) from two different public schools to a Catholic school this year.  

Austin (right) and Liam (left) Zinzi were enrolled in St. Louis Catholic School in Louisville this year after being in public schools, and their parents have noticed a huge difference in how they understand their faith and how it relates to them and each of their ages. (Photo provided)

“For Austin, the biggest difference in attending St. Louis is the balance of support and accountability. The structure of school, uniforms and the discipline of school and religion give him a foundation to know there are rules, and systems of structure to respect, etc. while understanding that he is cared for, enabling him to continue to cultivate respect for himself and others,” said Brian.  

He shared that Liam is able to apply his religious learnings and his faith in ways he can relate to as a kindergartner.  

“When he’s upset with something, [or] he is asked to do at home that he doesn’t want to, he can recognize that he can be mad but still have love for his family,” Brian explained. “When he is worried that he will have a bad dream, he asks St. Gabriel to watch over him in his dream which provides him comfort.” 

Kelly and Ben Kanner have two older children who were supposed to be in a public school this year, and one younger child who was going to attend the Early Learning Center at St. Louis Catholic School. “Then COVID hit, and we weren’t sure what would happen with school,” said Kelly.  

When the Kanners found out their public school wouldn’t have in-person learning, they decided to enroll the older two at St. Louis as well. They noticed the difference right away, from smaller class sizes to a more rigorous curriculum to the way morals and manners are modeled in the classroom, lunchroom and hallways.  

“That transfers to our home life in things the kids have learned and then bring home,” Kelly said. “I think that sometimes things, people or places come into your life for a reason. I think St. Louis came into our life for a reason, and we’ve been very blessed to have the school and teachers in our life this year.  

“If you had asked me in August before we started school, I would have said that we would go back to public school next year,” Kelly concluded. “Now I don’t think we’re going anywhere!”   

COMING UP: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.