Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Going Public: 5 Ways to Help Your Kids Keep the Faith-Even at Public Schools

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Going Public: 5 Ways to Help Your Kids Keep the Faith-Even at Public Schools

Article excerpt

When Mary Clare Murray's 8-year-old daughter came home with questions about why Catholics worship statues, Murray gave a simple explanation. Catholics don't worship statues, said the mother of six from St. John the Beloved Parish in McLean, Virginia. Statues and pictures help us focus our minds to pray.

The question originated in a playground conversation between her daughter, who attends public school, and a classmate. Her daughter shared the explanation with her friend.

"This exchange gave her an opportunity not only to learn about her faith but how the world perceives her faith," Murray says. "And her friend walked away learning something about the Catholic Church."

In public schools, not everyone, nor everything taught, will be in step with church teachings. Some parents fear this exposure will weaken their children's faith. Kristen Allen, a mother of five from St. Agnes Parish in Arlington, Virginia considers this a strength. "You have people celebrating various religious holidays," she says. "If done properly, it can be very enriching."

While there are plenty of ways to foster faith in youth, the following are five keys to raising strong, happy Catholics who happen to attend public school.

1. Parents, step up to the plate

All Catholic parents, regardless of school choice, bear the responsibility of helping their children grow in faith. They make that promise during their child's baptism.

"How you teach your child to live faith is very much a family issue. What matters most is the faith practiced in the home," says Laura Buddenberg, director of administration and outreach at Girls and Boys Town Center for Adolescent and Family Spirituality in Omaha.

She and her husband, Roger, chose public schools for their daughters, now in college and high school, after looking at their daughters' interests, curriculum at public and parochial schools, and programs available through their parish. They also reviewed their own faith and committed to developing their daughters' faith lives by participating in education opportunities at their parish, St. Leo in Omaha.

Experts agree that ongoing faith formation for parents is important to raising Catholic kids. It strengthens their understanding of Catholic teachings and provides a framework from which to address issues and situations in their lives.

That doesn't mean parents must know everything, however. There are many resources at the parish and diocesan level, as well as those found in books, on the Internet, and through role models in the family and parish community.

To get the most out of parish religious education programs, parents need to help their children prepare for classes by reviewing the textbook or otherwise discussing the topics with them outside of class. In some parishes, formal religious education classes cease after students receive the sacrament of Confirmation. In that case, a parish youth group can reinforce the Catholic principles parents are trying to foster in the home.

The object is to give a foundation from which the child can make life decisions that are in line with Catholic teachings, says Kristen Allen. She and her husband, Mark, leave the Bible, books on the saints' lives, and character-based or virtue-driven movies "lying around" their house. "We've certainly had our share of Pokemon and Captain Underpants," she says. "It's not a totally straight line. But we're trying to get them to the point where they can recognize trash and choose the good stuff."

2. Be prepared for questions

Allen remembers having plenty of questions about life and Catholic teaching in her teenage years. She didn't understand certain Catholic tenets and wanted to leave the church. Her parents told her she needed to know what the church said and why. They stood beside her as she asked the tough questions, providing answers where they could and referring her to other resources when necessary. …

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