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Educating our youth safely

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

September 2, 2020

For months, as you know, due to health and safety concerns, our places of worship, public institutions and businesses needed to implement government directives and protocols before they could open their doors to the public. As the new school year approaches, we are especially sensitive to both the educational needs of our children and ongoing health concerns for them and for all school personnel.

Everyone – parent, student, and teacher have the same goal: educating our children in a safe environment. We all want what is best for our children, no matter the setting – Day Care, Pre-K, Elementary, High School or College. It is important to remember this common desire when we are tempted to lose patience with those who disagree with what we believe to be the best plan to achieve this goal. We all want the same thing.

Public school superintendents and our Catholic school principals must consider many factors, in collaboration with their staff, faculty and parents, as they make important decisions in providing a safe educational environment for all who enter the school. Additionally, our pastors and parish Directors of Christian Formation are determining how to best provide Christian Formation for our children in our parish programs. We cannot put our children’s spiritual growth and formation on pause.

As you can imagine, there are many “moving parts” that must be considered in the planning for re-opening our schools. We thank Sr. Ellen Rose Coughlin, SSJ, Diocesan Director of Catholic Education, Mrs. Karen Donahue, Assistant Superintendent of Catholic Schools and the diocesan staff for the direction and support they continue to offer to our hard-working Catholic School principals and faculty, as well as the Christian Formation staff in our parishes. Our pastors, parish staffs, CCD coordinators and catechists, are working diligently to provide our students with a learning environment that is safe and conducive for their intellectual, spiritual and social growth.

Normally, we think of school as the place where lessons are learned and then tests administered. However, there is little that is normal about the times in which we live. This pandemic has presented us with a time of testing first and then learning lessons about ourselves as we struggle through the challenges of the day.

Parents, students and educators are understandably fearful. There continues to be so much unknown about this virus. We find it difficult to accept the fact that sometimes there is no quick fix. Medicine & science do not have all the answers. They never will. It is vitally important, yet so difficult, to be a source of confidence and joy when struggling to stay afloat in a sea of uncertainty. One sure thing: God is with us. We can reach deep within and find the patience and encouragement necessary because we are Christ-led, Christ-fed, hope-filled.

Perhaps, in our daily prayer, as we continue to pray for all the victims of this health crisis, we can reflect on lessons we might be learning in this time of testing. My self-examination might include questions such as:
• Where do I find the hope that motivates me in such uncertain times?

• Do I give authentic witness of confident hope to my children?

• How patient am I with myself, my family members, and my neighbor?

• Have I exercised self-discipline for the sake of the common good (i.e., keep safe-distancing and wear face covering when around people)?

• Have I consciously tried to develop a closer relationship with Jesus? (Has my prayer life been strengthened or has it suffered?) Why?

• Have I become a more grateful person?

• How has this pandemic been a “teachable” moment for me?

• Have I been able to tap into my creativity in developing new family activities?

• Have I become more sensitive to the plight of the unemployed?

My sisters and brothers, the school of the pandemic is in session. Albeit unwelcome, this can be an opportune time to gain wisdom and greater self-knowledge as we reflect on these questions and a host of others that enable us to grow closer to God and one another. Through it all, May God be praised. Forever may God be praised!

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