First published in 2010. We are no longer members of the parish in the post but some of the things written still ring true for so many homeschoolers. Perhaps a few will find consolation here...
Once a year, our diocese celebrates Catholic Schools Week and our parish joins in with gusto. We reportedly have the largest school in the diocese. For homeschooling kids, it's an awkward time since we are also a Catholic school in our parish but not recognized in the same way... or actually in any way. It's a time to give thanks and recognition to the parish school but also (quite literally) a marketing campaign to draw Catholic families to a faith-centered education through the diocesan institutions (as opposed to public schooling). I don't have a significant problem with this. I understand. And I am happy that we can work and worship alongside a community that professes the same spiritual goals. But my homeschooled kids do feel the isolation a little more during these moments. In spite of our efforts to maintain an active and positive connection with our parish community, they are different because of the choices their parents have made. And that difference is highlighted by the exclusion from a major parish celebration.
"But Mommy... aren't we a Catholic school?"
The answer is obvious. Of course we are. But Catholic Schools Week is not really about all Catholic schools... just diocesan Catholic schools. Parish schools. That's the point of the thing.
"But Mommy... aren't we a part of the diocese? And the parish?"
The thing is obvious on it's face. We are active and happy members of our parish family and yes, we are members of a Catholic school. We bust our behinds in our home-based Catholic school and our parish enjoys the fruits of that. But kids see what they see... know what they know. They know that Father doesn't really want to talk about their Catholic school unless it is to suggest that they come to his parish school instead. They know that the DRE doesn't like homeschooling in spite of the fact that our kids are doing just fine. They feel the sting of an unjust judgment and exclusion.
In spite of the stereotype of homeschoolers as being holier-than-thou or rigidly affixed to certain methods, the truth is that we are all as different as finger prints... and often very isolated. We sit in the front pew at the "Catholic Schools liturgy" and listen to Father go on and on about every Catholic school represented in his parish... except for ours.
It doesn't matter... and yet it does matter.
It has been said and written in my community that "the school is the heart of our parish". As a homeschooling mother who loves her parish home, I agree that this does seem to be the case from an activity, financial and population point of view. I do wonder though if that perspective ever strikes anyone else (even school parents and Father) as being a bit topsy-turvy.
The parish church is and aught to be the heart of the school and entire faith community. This is where Christ comes to us through the Sacramental life and transforms us. The families of the school children keep the parish lively. They comprise a large chunk of our parish population. They help provide a great deal of the church revenue (over $1,000,000 of which went to subsidize the school last year). But the "source and summit" of our faith resides in the Presence of Jesus Christ in the parish church. Words are important.
If our school fails, have we lost the "heart of our parish"? I hope not!
The Church teaches that each family is a Domestic Church or Ecclesia Domestica (1656 CCC)... A microcosm and symbol of Christ's larger Church. My home is also a Catholic school and the school is inseparable from our family identity. But the heart of our family is not our school; the heart of our family is Jesus Christ.
I exhaled a sigh of resignation as I began reading the Catholic Schools Week edition of our parish newsletter before the "Catholic Schools week" liturgy. We are friends with many of the students at the school and with their families. Our kids play sports for the school, we coach, and have had a good experience in the CYO programs. We are on a parallel journey spiritually and academically but with different methods. Alas, the parish newsletter highlights of the school are generally exclusive and dull... showcasing mostly things like new computers and or zoo field trips. My kids were glued to it while I yawned shamefully. I wryly wondered if the newsletter editor would like a copy of our zoo trip pics... or maybe of our upgraded home computer.
Yes, it was naughty of me. I'm not actually bitter and shouldn't engage in petty mental games. But I do confess a real sadness which comes from feeling isolated from parish family when we have sought only the opposite. My kids give their hearts to their parish home. We are on the parish grounds most days of the week for one reason or another. And yet... we are still outsiders? It is a sorrow of mine that I know my children also feel. Must we be attendees of the school in order to be fully embraced members of the parish? I wondered how the charter school kids felt... and the public school students... and their families... and I thought maybe I had an inkling.
While recognizing the valuable contribution of the parish school, he looks beyond the identity of the particular school to foundational truths of Catholic education as a whole. Father writes:
"As we remember the Catholic educational programs and in particular our own parish school, let us remember that they have only a secondary role. The biggest and most lasting impact of faith is achieved only through a HOME LIFE."
Please read it here and pass it on.
Regardless of where our kids go to school, the home, our Ecclesia Domestica, provides the foundation for the faith our little ones will carry with them through time and eternity. And the parish exists to support that foundation, regardless of where we are educated.
The true health of a parish can be best ascertained, not by the size or vibrancy of the school attached to it, but by the vibrancy of the parish life, regardless of what the school does. And that means investing in all families, not just some. Celebrating all Catholic education, not just parochial. And making sure that the focus is not placed too heavily on the secondary things, but the building up of the family through the treasure of Jesus Christ Himself.