As a young child, I loved Catholic Schools Week (this year, Jan. 31-Feb. 6). During my elementary-school years my school's celebration often included activities such as coloring a poster or bookmark with the Catholic Schools Week logo, attending a school-wide Mass, or eating a free ice cream sundae after lunch. These events, while enjoyable in and of themselves, also provided the added benefit of taking up class time, which meant the best perk of all: no homework.
Today, I've come to a greater understanding of what it means to celebrate the depth and value of my 12 years of Catholic education. I appreciate the sense of community fostered during that time, the value of discipline and even the uniforms. And since 1990, even Washington has taken note, by designating a national appreciation day:
"As part of Catholic Schools Week, National Appreciation Day For Catholic Schools will be observed Wednesday, Feb. 3. National Appreciation Day was established to encourage supporters nationwide to showcase to elected officials the great accomplishments and contributions of Catholic schools. In Washington, a delegation of Catholic school students, teachers and parents will visit Capitol Hill to meet with congressional leaders to promote Catholic schools."
I've also gained a greater appreciation for the women religious who helped shape my school experience and their predecessors who helped to establish and grow the first Catholic schools in America. Although the presence of women religious in schools has dropped since its height in the mid-1960s, their legacy remains and their good work continues. Therefore, I was thrilled to learn about the traveling exhibit called "Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America" now at the S. Dillon Ripley Center at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The exhibit not only highlights the contributions of women religious to education, but their work to further heath care, science, human rights and assistance to the poor.
The exhibit's next stops include New York City; Dubuque, Iowa; and South Bend, Ind. Catholic educators in those cities should consider taking students on a field trip to the exhibit. The students will certainly appreciate missing class and the possibility of fewer homework assignments, but they might also learn a thing or two about the many ways in which their lives, their education, their country have been and will continue to be changed by these strong, faith-filled women.