Rachel Allen

In Name Only?: When Your Catholic School Isn’t Very Catholic

“All-school Mass today? Sweet, that means no math class first period!”

“Pro-Life March? You mean three days off school and a trip to D.C.!”

“Would anyone like to say a prayer to start class?” *crickets*

Man . . . do any Catholics even go to this school?!

I went to Catholic schools my entire life, and I’m not gonna lie: sometimes, I wondered. It often felt like we were Catholic in name only – and even then, it’s not like we wrote it boldly across our t-shirts.

We had all the right Catholic things: sacraments, religion classes, retreats, etc. – but just because we had all the right Catholic things didn’t mean people cared about living their Catholic life. Students napped during Mass. The same three kids volunteered to lead prayer in class (more because they hated awkward silences, not so much because they liked prayer). And retreats… well, most of them left a lot to be desired. We were a Catholic school – so why didn’t anyone care about Catholic stuff?

Obviously, appearances can be deceiving. We don’t know where people are really at – I know that many of my teachers and campus ministers worked hard to help the students grow in faith. I also know that I am partially to blame for things not being ‘Catholic enough,’ because as much as I cared about my faith, I was terrified of being the only who expressed it (especially as an underclassman… I did get braver as time went on). I’m sure I had other classmates who felt the same way.

But when you are a fired-up, fearless, Catholic teenager wandering the halls of a (seemingly) un-Catholic high school, you might want to push for things to be a little more Catholic – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Here are some ideas, based on my high school experience and some of the awesome Catholic high schools I’ve been to lately, to help you make your school a little more Catholic:

  1. Morning Prayer – start the day right. Most Catholic schools have some kind of organized prayer at the beginning and the end of the day; what does that look like in your school? Is it student-led? If it isn’t… shouldn’t it be? Do you have ideas on how to make it more applicable to the student body?
  2. Daily Mass – a lot of this depends on whether or not you have access to a priest, of course. At my high school, we were able to have Mass on Tuesdays and Fridays before school started. My personal favorite was Fridays during football season, when Coach made all the players attend…
  3. Reconciliation – again, this depends on priestly availability. I went to a high school recently where a local parish priest is also assigned to their school twice a week to hear confessions during the lunch hour. You could always contact your bishop and ask for the same thing to happen at your school.
  4. Campus Ministry – get involved! James 1:22 says, “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only.” If you want things to change, change them. Help plan all-school Masses and prayer services. Be the upperclassman who leads small groups for underclassmen retreat days. If something is missing, start it. We had a campus ministry club, but no specific Pro-Life club, so my junior year, I started one with a classmate. We did four or five events every school year and made sure we had leaders in place behind us to keep it going after graduation.
  5. Bring faith into everything else – do you play sports? Lead a team prayer at the beginning and end of every practice. Are you on the newspaper? Start a column about spiritual life and faith issues. Theater kid? Pipe some Christian jams over the speakers during those overnight set-building bonanzas. Or at the very least, make sure they don’t play Robin Thicke… JPII said that it doesn’t matter how you pray, as long as you pray. By bringing your faith into the activities you already love, you can make them a prayer, too.
  6. And while we’re on the subject of prayer . . . Pray – Pray in class. Pray at the lunch table. Pray at meetings. Why not?! It doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated, it just needs to happen. If you want your Catholic school to be more Catholic, it starts with you being more Catholic, so get praying.

At World Youth Day this summer, Pope Francis said the best evangelist of a young person is another young person. That’s you. So, if you want your Catholic school to be more Catholic, get to work.

Some of these ideas might sound cool. Some might sound like social suicide. Don’t worry about it – once I got a little more confident in sharing my faith, I became “that kid” in high school.

And rest assured, I still had plans on the weekends. I still had friends. I even had a boyfriend! Because there’s nothing more attractive than being who you really are – so if you want your school to look its best, then help it be what it is: Catholic.

Rachel Allen

About the Author

I work for a retreat ministry called the REAP Team, where it's my full-time job to talk about sex, love, dating, and chastity (which can sometimes lead to some awesomely awkward moments). I love being Catholic, watching movies, and browsing antique malls. The only thing I have against winter is the fact that there's no baseball. Feel free to email me at [email protected] or follow me on Twitter @rachel_m_allen