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Roxane B. Salonen, Published September 06 2013

Living Faith: Unveiling a well-kept secret of private school

For the past 12 years, I’ve been carrying a secret; one I’ve been reluctant to share too widely for fear I’ll be labeled a snob.

And yet it’s one of those secrets that shouldn’t be one, so here goes. Parochial schools rock! No snobbery intended, promise.

I know as well as anyone the challenges inherent in private education today, but none can outweigh the major benefits of a faith-based educational environment.

I say this even though I’m a product of public schools, having attended them from kindergarten all the way through college. I also grew up in a family of public-school teachers, and my husband’s grandfather was a well-respected superintendent of public schools.

Currently, our immediate family has a mix of both public and private school attendees.

In other words, I’ve had time to absorb the pros and cons of each, and happily, recognize that in this part of the country, our kids really can’t go wrong either way.

Nevertheless, the private-schools option rises miles above in my mind for one very specific reason, and despite objections by some family members and even occasional neighborhood bullying in our kids’ earliest years.

It comes down to one word: prayer.

Small hands folded at day’s beginning, sharing the petitions of their young hearts with classmates; a pastor leading a whole football stadium of parents and students in a pre-game salute to the creator of the universe; grace echoing in unison by a cafeteria full of hungry but grateful students.

These are moments that cannot happen with vigor in public schools. Certainly, quiet prayer can and does take place but not with the full freedom to glorify God publicly, out loud and with no apology, in the spaces where our children are becoming their full selves.

Our dual nature of body and soul should not be overlooked. Most everyone grasps the education of our minds to advance society and ourselves, but if we do this to the exclusion of educating our souls, our growth is incomplete.

In my earliest years of mothering, I kept the dream of private school tucked away, believing it beyond our grasp. But then I joined a Bible study at the church connected to one of our local parochial elementary schools and began reconsidering the options.

I was witnessing, through friends and their children, the circular nature of faith-based education; how faith taught at home is affirmed at school then returned home, creating a truly vital experience.

I wanted this for my kids, too, and am grateful it’s come to pass. I’m convinced we need to keep working on ways to offer this to all who desire it. After all, God’s arms are wide and inclusive.

Catholic schools in particular got their start in this country in the 19th century with the help of Bishop John Hughes of New York City. Hughes saw the inadequacies of the education of immigrant children at the time, many whose parents were illiterate.

Many of these parents worked as horse-cart drivers, washerwomen and day laborers who waited on street corners for contractors to hire them to dig cellars or remove horse manure from the streets. Their homes were crowded, and disease was rampant.

Hughes knew parochial schools would help evangelize the kids in the faith and hopefully, their parents in turn.

And he likely knew what I’ve come to see – that educating the whole person carries not only eternal significance for us personally but benefits society as a whole in the formation of moral citizens.

Rather than watching these opportunities diminish, I pray that more families who want to experience their children coming home from school with God’s love more fully entrenched in their hearts will have the chance.

Roxane B. Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. If you have a story of faith to share with her, email roxanebsalonen@gmail.com