What does it mean to be educated?

Julie Filby

26 COL Marc Nestorick HeadshotMarc Nestorick is the principal of Bishop Machebeuf High School. He will be ordained to the diaconate June 20.

What do our children need before they graduate from high school?

In my 22 years as an educator, these are two questions I have been trying to answer. For 20 of those years, I tried to find the answer in the public schools with limited success. Throughout that time, I worked towards academic excellence and scored well on tests. I worked to maximize academic time, while at times sacrificing the opportunities for social and real-world opportunities of the students. I looked for every opportunity to improve the numbers (whatever numbers were important at that time). What I have come to realize is that there is more to being educated than what a number can show you.

Now don’t get me wrong, we are in the education business. Results matter and tests are one piece of that component. But there’s more. Education truly is about forming our children in mind, body and soul.

As an educational community we must educate the mind, but we cannot do this at the expense and the absence of the body and soul. Rather, the way to maximize the learning of the mind is to educate the whole child. The three elements cannot be separated. This is where, based upon my experience, Catholic education makes a difference.

Through Catholic schools, students’ minds, bodies and souls are formed so they are prepared to share the Gospel in whatever personal vocation they are called to in serving God. It’s more than a number. It’s more than what can be measured on a test. What number tells you whether a child is prepared to serve God and spread the Gospel?

As parents, we are the primary educators of our children. Catholic schools partner with parents on that journey. Instruction in a Catholic school is not contrary to what is being lived out or taught in a Catholic household. It is designed to support parents in what they are teaching and expecting as Catholic parents.

Instruction cohesively brings together the teachings of our faith with the truth. Faith and reason are merged together. When we teach science in Catholic schools, students learn the same scientific facts as they would in any school. However, there is a huge difference—the teachings of the Gospel and the Church are also taught.

For example, science helps students understand the concept of cloning, but in a Catholic school we can address why cloning humans is morally unacceptable because it denigrates the dignity of the person. We thereby give our students the entire truth—faith and reason combined. Instruction is truly melding together the mind and soul, faith and reason. Students leave Catholic schools understanding the connection between knowledge and faith. In this way, our students go beyond a number on the test.

In addition to educating the whole child in the classroom, Catholic schools incorporate the formation of mind, body and soul into all aspects of school programs. Prayer is incorporated throughout the day, within extracurricular activities, and on the athletic field. Students actively participate in retreat programs and have regular access to the sacraments.

So, what does it mean to be educated? To be educated means to form the mind, body and soul in truth. After many years of looking elsewhere, I found the answer to this question in Catholic schools.

COMING UP: Radical living and my friend Shelly

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I saw my friend Shelly the other day, for the first time in 28 years.

Back in the day, she was Shelly Pennefather, basketball phenomenon. She led Denver’s Bishop Machebeuf High School’s women’s basketball team to three undefeated seasons, a 70-0 record. In her senior year, her family moved to Utica, New York, where she led the Notre Dame High School team to a 26-0 season, giving her a no loss record for her entire high school career. She remains Villanova University’s all-time scorer — men’s and women’s — with a career total of 2408 points.  She also holds the women’s rebound record, at 1171. She is a three-time Big East Player of the Year, the first All-American out of the Big East, the 1987 National Player of the Year, and a winner of the prestigious Wade Trophy. She’s been inducted into the Philadelphia Women’s Big Five Hall of Fame, and Villanova has retired her jersey. After college, she played professional women’s basketball in Japan. She was making more money than anybody I knew.

She doesn’t go by Shelly anymore. These days, she is Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. She lives in the Poor Clares Monastery in Alexandria, Virginia. She joined their community in 1991 and took her final vows in 1997. They are cloistered, which means that they don’t leave the monastery, except for medical emergencies. Her only contact with the outside world is through letters, and very limited visits with family and friends. She’s never used the internet, doesn’t know what Facebook is, and when she saw a visitor answer a cell phone, she asked “What is that?”

Why? Why on God’s earth would a basketball star of this magnitude just walk away from the game and the fame, or go from being one of the world’s highest paid women’s basketball players to taking a vow of perpetual poverty? Why would an attractive, funny, vivacious 25-year-old woman renounce marriage and family to lock herself up in a monastery? Why would a loving daughter and sister embrace a religious discipline wherein she could only see her family — through a screen —a few times a year, and hug them only once every 25 years? Why would anybody voluntarily live a life in which they could own nothing, sleep no more than four hours at a time (on a straw mat), eat no more than one full meal a day, and use telephones, TV, radio, internet and newspapers — well, never?

It all boils down to this: We’re all gonna die. And when we do, all of the money and the prestige and the accomplishments and the basketball awards are going to fall away. All that will be left is us and God. If we play our cards right, we will spend eternity beholding his face and praising him. And, as St. Augustine says, that is where our truest happiness lies — in this life as well as in the next: “Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and will not rest until they rest in Thee.”

Cloistered sisters like the Poor Clares make the radical choice to live that way now — to begin their eternal life here on earth. As religious sisters, they are brides of Christ, and they focus their lives entirely on their bridegroom, without the distractions of all the stuff that’s going to fall away after death anyway. They spend their lives primarily in prayer — praying for you and for me and for this entire mixed up world and in deepening their own relationship with Christ.

This, it goes without saying, is a radical way to live. It is not for everyone, or even for most people. It is a free choice on the part of the sisters. But they do not take the initiative. God himself is the initiator. He calls them to this life, and they freely respond. Sister Rose Marie herself told her coach that this was not the life she would have chosen for herself, but it was very clear to her that it was the life God was calling her to.

I finally got to see Sister Rose Marie last weekend, as she celebrated the 25th anniversary of her solemn vows. I had the privilege of witnessing the once-every-25-year-hugs she gave her family. I spoke to her briefly, from behind the screen. She was always a cheerful person. But I saw a joy and a radiance in her that day that I have rarely seen ever, in anyone. It was beautiful.

The great gift these sisters give to us, aside from their prayers, is that they remind us that this life, and all its pleasures and distractions, will not last forever. And their dedication and their joy give us a small glimpse into the joy that is in store for us, if we can only imitate in some small way their singular focus on their Bridegroom.

Pray for them. And pray for the grace to do what they do — to rise above the distractions of this world and look toward the life that never ends.