Diocese of Ogdensburg

The Roman Catholic Church in Northern New York

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Letter to Catholic School Students
Catholic Schools Week
Sister Ellen Rose Coughlin, SSJ
Superintendent of Schools

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Dear Catholic School Students,

Some of you will be celebrating Catholic Schools Week the last week of January; others will celebrate later in February and some will enjoy this special week in March. Whenever your school chooses to observe Catholic Schools Week you will have the opportunity to participate in special events that are not only enjoyable, challenging and fun but also focus on what makes your school special.

Recently I read a story (cf. Word Among Us, January 2019 Issue) that I would like to share with you. It is about a traveler and three stonecutters working in a quarry. Each was busy cutting a block of stone. The traveler asked the first stonecutter what he was doing. The stonecutter replied, “I am cutting a stone.” The traveler asked the second stonecutter the same question. He answered, “I am cutting this block of stone to make sure that its dimensions are uniform, so that it will fit exactly in its place in the wall.” The traveler thought the second answer was better than the first answer but he still was not satisfied. He asked the third stonecutter who also appeared to be the happiest of the three. “What are you doing?” The man answered, “I am building a cathedral.”

Sometimes like the first two stonecutters we focus on what is right before us and fail to see the big picture and the long-term results of what we are doing or why we are doing it. Each stonecutter was working on a block of stone but only one saw his work as part of a massive cathedral – only one saw the ultimate reason he was laboring over the stone.

Catholic Schools Week is a great opportunity to look at the big picture and the purpose of your Catholic school education. Catholic schools help to form minds and hearts. They provide the knowledge and skills necessary for you to live as a helpful member of your family, parish, community, state and nation. They teach and reinforce habits that respect others, reach out to those in need, practice collaboration and cooperation, avoid violence and injustice and promote peace and understanding. They offer instruction in math, science, reading and writing, grammar and spelling, use of technology, social studies, art and music! I am sure you agree that school is a busy place. There is much to do, to experience and to learn.

A Catholic school however, provides something very special. A few days before Christmas, some Kindergarteners from Trinity Catholic School, Massena and 8th Graders from Augustinian Academy, Carthage, were invited to the Bishop’s house for hot chocolate and cookies. Trinity and Augustinian students made the decorations for the Bishop’s Christmas tree this year and Bishop LaValley invited them to visit him, see his home and of course the Christmas Tree.

While the Bishop was talking to the 8th graders, I had a chance to visit with the Kindergarteners. I asked them, “What makes your school special?” Every hand went up and without a moment’s hesitation I heard a young boy with a wide grin exclaim, “Jesus. Jesus makes our school special!” Not to be outdone another voice added, “We learn about Jesus and how to act like Him.”

Did you notice that something was missing in the subjects I listed above? I hope so because something very important was not listed. Religion, instruction in our faith is a very important part of every day in a Catholic school. This instruction helps you to discover that our faith, though it includes what we believe and the requirements of our faith, is summed up in a person – Jesus Christ. As the Kindergartener said, “Jesus is what makes our school special!” In your Catholic school you learn to read and write; participate in math, science, social studies, art, technology and music classes; learn a foreign language; participate in sports programs and other extracurricular activities – all of this and “something more.”

Christ is the foundation of your school. “Something more” is not small class sizes, quality academic programs, successful athletic teams, or a safe, secure and orderly environment for learning. As good as these elements are, they do not define a Catholic school. Your school’s “something more” is a person, Jesus Christ, who leads you into the future so you can be good citizens of this world and eventually a citizen of heaven.

The third stonecutter realized that when he was cutting the stone, he was preparing it for its ultimate purpose, to take its place as part of a cathedral. A Catholic school education prepares you for something beyond good grades, athletic accomplishment and good test scores. It prepares you to fulfill the reason God made you – to know, love and serve Him, to be happy in this life and someday happy forever with Him in heaven. A Catholic education prepares you to live in society as good citizens, to make Jesus known by your words and actions and one day to be citizens of heaven.

During Catholic Schools Week take some time to thank those who make your school the special place it is. Thank your parents for choosing a Catholic school for you, often at a financial sacrifice. Thank your principal, teachers, staff and volunteers. Thank your pastor for his support of the school. And be sure to thank Bishop LaValley for making his annual visit to your school and all the other ways in which he supports our Catholic Schools.

Enjoy Catholic Schools Week!