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  • Writer's pictureCaroline Head

Thank you, Sister Monica

After teaching in Catholic schools for ten years, I have quite a few stories to share. One story that stands out, however, does not involve students. Instead, Sister Monica and I crossed paths at a time when I wasn’t sure where I would be teaching next.

One Sunday in June 2013, I ended up at the 11:30 am Mass at the parish down the street. What I thought would be a quick last Mass of the day turned out to the be the annual Jubilee Mass for the Sisters of Christian Charity. The Mass, which stretched on for 90 minutes in the unairconditioned church, was filled with opposites. While honoring these women, some of whom had given 70 years of service to the church, the readings focused on sin and wrongdoings. The psalm seemed particularly out of place: Lord, forgive the wrong I have done. During his homily the priest joked about the juxtaposition of these odd readings with the incredible service of the sisters, then invited the congregation to a reception in the school gym following the Mass.

I figured that I would grab some snacks and head out, but Sister Monica had other plans. She quickly determined that I was not at the reception with anyone and struck up a conversation. I told her that I was a teacher applying for jobs, including one I just completed for my dream grade level at a Catholic school. Sister Monica reassured me that she would pray for me, then proceeded to introduce me to all of the sisters and told them to pray for my job search.

The principal emailed me at 9am the next morning for an interview. I got the job, and then stayed for five years before moving to another school.

My time in Catholic schools taught me a lot about people. The greatest strength of Catholic schools, however, isn’t the academics or sports. The strength of a Catholic school lies in its community of families and staff. Jesus calls us to welcome the stranger, to gather together, and to take care of each other. I look back fondly on my time teaching and remember the positive moments. Students making cross curricular connections, linking the Ten Commandments to Tolkien, linking the past to the present in social studies. Sharing celebrations - birthdays, liturgical feasts, and accomplishments. Students showing their creativity through writing poetry on academic topics for fun, showing their responsibility when helping a younger student at church, showing reverence in the choir. Collaborating with my teammates and colleagues.

There were more somber moments, too. Sickness and injuries. Praying for loved ones who passed away. Lockdown drills. Days when nothing went right, behavior was out of control, and you wanted to throw in the towel. Standing on a snowy train platform in sub-zero temperatures, wondering why I stayed at a job that gave me so much joy and also paid so little.

On Sunday we began Catholic Schools Week, an annual week promoted by the NCEA (National Catholic Educators Association) to honor and celebrate our nation’s Catholic schools. Today I am reminded of my community of Catholic school families and colleagues that have become friends. There are many reasons why people teach in a Catholic school. No matter how we all end up there - not everyone can run into Sister Monica while applying for a job - the teachers I was lucky enough to work with were an amazing community who always had my back. This week, take time to celebrate and recognize the Catholic school educators in your life and parish. In these cold dreary days of winter amidst the pandemic, recognizing the sacrifice and commitment of the people who quietly keep our Catholic schools open and running will help keep the community strong for years to come.

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