Catholic Schools Week will be celebrated nationally Jan. 31 to Feb. 6 with the slogan “Dividends for Life.”
The Miscellany spoke to graduates of the four Catholic high schools in the state to hear their perspective on how a Catholic education helped them succeed in all areas of life.
Each person praised the schools for academically challenging courses, a close family atmosphere, and a Christian environment that instilled faith in God and self.
Peter Kaple, a 2007 graduate of Cardinal Newman in Columbia, e-mailed with The Miscellany from the middle of the ocean, where he is onboard the Methane Heather Sally headed for Japan. He is currently a 2/C (junior) at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and will earn a commission in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
“My Catholic education gave me the tools I needed and showed me how to use them. These include self-discipline, the right attitude about every situation, and faith — not only in God but also in myself,” he wrote.
Kaple said the small classes at Cardinal Newman and St. John Neumann, where he spent his primary years, made it more like a family, where everyone knew each other.
“It always seemed like the teachers knew if you were having trouble and were willing to help as much as possible. They wanted you to succeed and you could tell, which helped a lot,” he added.
Faith is another important aspect of Catholic education, and graduates said it helps guide them even when they are far away from a church or chapel.
“While working on ships, especially in port, often sailors are faced with long working hours,” Kaple said. “I have often found myself asking God to give me the strength to keep going.”
Marie Rossignol said she is grateful every day that her parents moved her from a public school to a Catholic school. She was only in second grade when the switch occurred, but she knew it was right even then.
“I cannot tell you how many times I call my mom now and say thank you for sending me to Catholic school,” she said.
A graduate of Divine Redeemer in Hanahan and Bishop England High School in 2009, she is now attending Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, N.C.
“I was very involved at B.E. and that has helped tremendously in terms of time management and leadership,” Rossignol said.
She added that small classes and requirements for stewardship mean that everyone is involved at some level.
“It teaches you to be a team player but at the same time be prepared for leadership,” she said.
The college freshman said not all requirements are appreciated at the time, such as theology classes or attending Mass.
“Once you’re in college and nobody is forcing you to get up and go to Sunday Mass, that’s when you realize you’re doing it for yourself,” Rossignol said. Going to Catholic school doesn’t make you devout, “that comes from within,” she added.
St. Joseph’s Catholic
Michael Hart has been out of high school for almost 10 years, but he said he will never forget the lessons he learned at Catholic school.
While he was growing up, his family traveled with his father and Hart went to schools all over the country.
He said he is a firm believer in the benefits of Catholic over public education.
“I think it offers a better environment,” he said. “There’s a feeling of trust at a Catholic school.”
He said there were no locks on the lockers at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville, and said he would toss his wallet and keys inside and never worry about them being stolen.
A graduate of the College of Charleston, Hart has a degree in international business and is currently flying aid missions to Haiti with the U.S. Air Force Reserves. He is engaged to marry Amanda Ballard this summer.
Like other graduates, he credited his success to a tough, demanding curriculum, but added that while teachers may expect more, they are also available to help more.
He credits part of that to the Christian education and values that everyone at the school lives by.
“To this day I’m still a practicing Catholic and I feel it helped me become a better Catholic,” he said.
St. Francis Xavier
Elizabeth Free graduated in 2001 and went to Marquette University, where she majored in nursing. She was just released from active duty with the U.S. Navy and hopes to find a civilian hospital job.
She and her husband Daniel have three children, Madison, age 4; Hannah, age 2; and Caleb, 8 months. They are set on sending the children to their parish school at Resurrection Catholic Church in Jacksonville, Fla.
“It’s a safer atmosphere for your kids and as parents we know they’re going to get a better educational experience,” she said.
Free is from a military family and grew up attending schools on various Air Force bases, until they settled in Sumter and she enrolled at St. Francis Xavier High School.
She said she discovered that Catholic schools offer a more well-rounded education, with religion, morality and stewardship on top of regular classes.
Also, because of the small size, Free said students and teachers worked closely with one another and learned to be accepting of all types of personalities and cultures.
Family is a word that is repeated often in talking about the Catholic school experience.
“You don’t feel as much a number,” Free said. “You feel like an individual who is recognized for your potential.”