Teenagers and Catholic Education

The following article is written by guest blogger Maureen Grady Lewis, awesome principal of Aquinas High School in Augusta, Georgia. Aquinas is a college preparatory, co-educational, Catholic high school that successfully prepares its students for college and for life. It’s worth reading especially if you are wondering about teenagers today and the benefits of Catholic education. Spoiler Alert: It has a happy ending.

My husband and I attended the Catholic vigil for a friend’s dad at 4:00 p.m. this afternoon. He was someone who rarely if ever missed a Sunday Mass and truly valued Catholic education. His daughter and son-in-law here in town likewise made sacrifices to send their four kids to Catholic schools. We sat next to a teacher at Aquinas and an Aquinas family who had returned early from a weekend at the beach to attend the vigil.

I listened to the priest talk of the love that permeated the room as the 90+ year old Colonel lay dying for the past few days. He spoke of the laughter and the tears, the stories and the prayers, spoken and sung. Tears ran down my cheek, happy and sad for my friend’s family, and happy and sad as I recalled the similar last days of my own mom and dad, minus the singing because we Gradys were not gifted with musical genes.

From there, we went to St Mary on the Hill Catholic Church for the 5:30 Mass. We always sit in the first ten or so pews because I find it much easier to focus when I do so. I share that just so that you know I could not see many of the attendees at Mass, just those in front of us.

Before Mass even started I recognized numerous Aquinas students and alumni, some in town for the summer, others for the weekend. In addition I noted that several recent University of Georgia graduates (and Aquinas alum) were there for Mass. I could not help but smile to think that four years of living on a secular college campus had not tainted them to the point of no return (to the Church).

As the altar servers processed in, two of the four were current Aquinas students. As the collection was taken up, I recognized several handsome lads who are Aquinas grads. When Fr. Arnoldt talked of gratitude and hospitality in his homily, he spoke by name of Connor, a rising senior at Aquinas, whom Father said politely introduced not only himself but also his sister who was serving at Mass as well.

After Mass I saw numerous more graduates as well as several current students. One was in scrubs on the way to work the night shift at University Hospital; others had brought along younger siblings to Mass. One is soon to return to Louisiana for his second year as part of Teach for America. Another is a rising junior, busy playing baseball and conditioning for football, at least when he is not doing his summer reading.

One was home from Notre Dame; another is headed off to Emory Law School. The Aquinas parent I talked to before Mass has a daughter working on her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and a son in the seminary.

My heart was warmed to see so many of our current and former students at Mass on a hot, July evening because fulfilling our Sunday obligation is the right thing to do.

Although I firmly believe that parents are the number one influence on the faith life of most teenagers, I found myself thinking that surely the CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) surveys are correct: Students who attend Catholic high schools are eight times more likely to attend weekly Mass than teenagers who do not attend Catholic high schools.

So if you find yourself bemoaning teenagers today or the current state of our world, head to Mass. Perhaps, like me, you will be reminded of the beauty of youth and the hope that they bring to our community, our Church, and our world.

And, you might even recognize that the Catholic high school students of today are very often those in the Church pews tomorrow.

Maureen Grady Lewis
Principal, Aquinas High School
July 17, 2016