By Rick Howick
Principal of St. Catherine of Alexandria School, Riverside
I moved toward the office door with the cash boxes out. The knock told me my timing was good. Family Bingo was about to begin and the line for cards and daubers was already forming. Within a half hour, the parish hall was full of families sitting down with pre-paid pizza and one dollar hot dogs. Nothing yet had officially begun as I had not said the all important words, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” At that point, we had begun – our gathering of smiling children and chatting parents had transformed into a community event for our parish school.
The real strength in being Catholic is clear to Catholic school principals. Our faith is not so much a belief system as it is a life-system. Take Catholic education, one of the most intense of parish ministries. Our parents are thrust into small faith communities called “classroom parents” when their children start kindergarten. They spend the next nine years of their lives working with the other parents in their parent groups running their children to field trips, working soda booths at festival, and daubing bingo cards on family nights. All of it is done in the context of Catholic ministry, and all done for others – their children, and the children of their fellow parents. After nine years of this (assuming just one child – we have parents who have been with us more than two decades), the parents have formed close relationships with people they never would have hoped to know ten years previously, relationships which will last a lifetime.
That is real Catholic ministry, building strong Catholic families. A study by CARA (a Catholic research group from Georgetown University: Catholic Schooling and Disaffiliation from Catholicism, by Paul Perl and Mark M. Gray, 2006) showed that our children are most likely to remain actively Catholic if they form strong and lasting Catholic relationships such as those in Catholic elementary and High Schools, and in parish youth groups. That doesn’t mean going to Mass isn’t important – on the contrary, encountering the body of Christ is the whole point of Catholicism. And that is found not only in the Eucharist, but in the Body of Christ known as the people of God. The stronger we build those relationships, the closer to Christ we grow.
Toward the end of the evening as the six-year-old passed me with a huge slice of chocolate pie, she looked up and smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Howick.” And I could only smile back while I thought the word, Bingo!