| By Mary P. Walker | Senior Correspondent

Catholic Education is Cornerstone for Johnson Family

Joyful Disciples is the theme for Catholic education in the Austin Diocese this year, and a Bryan family exemplifies this joy at St. Joseph Catholic School.

Members of St. Joseph Parish, Martha and Richard Johnson are the parents of four students, who are in the third, sixth, 10th and 12th grades. While growing up, Martha attended Catholic elementary school. This experience made her desire a Catholic education for her children, as well as friends who shared their faith. Although Richard did not attend Catholic school, he believes in the value of a Catholic education and wants this for their children. 

To afford the tuition for four children, the family adjusts other areas of their lives, such as living in a smaller house and driving older cars. During the times when making the tuition payments was a challenge, Martha explained that God has provided, and it always worked out.

The family does not view these adjustments as a sacrifice. 

“I see it more as a lifestyle choice. I have not regretted it — ever. There are lots of times that we are so thankful that St. Joseph’s is in our lives,” Martha said. 

The Johnsons’ oldest son, Luke, is a senior and has attended St. Joseph School since third grade. Luke has always been interested in space and hopes to become an engineer in the aerospace field. He feels confident that his time at St. Joseph Catholic School has prepared him academically for college and beyond. 

The ultimate goal of a Catholic education is to equip students to live out God’s plan for their lives and lead them to sainthood. Luke said his high school theology classes give him a pathway to a mature understanding that goes beyond the basics of the faith. 

“As I learn more about God and more about the church, the whole faith starts to make more sense,” Luke said. 

He explained being in an environment that celebrates and upholds his faith has a profoundly positive effect on his relationship with Christ. The students attend Mass twice a week, and different grades take turns planning the liturgy. In addition, he serves as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, bringing Jesus sacramentally to his friends and classmates. These experiences give him an appreciation for the ritual heritage of Catholicism and help him grow in his relationship with God.

His teachers have also inspired him in ways that go beyond academics, he said. 

“I have a deep connection with all of my teachers, and I can be open with them,” he said.

Luke appreciates that while his school encourages students to pursue excellence, it also encourages them to try new things to discover the gifts and talents God has given them. Joy in learning and “doing” is reason enough to participate in sports, art, music and other extracurricular activities.

In other high school settings, a student may have to try out for a sports team, which means they need to have experience in that sport. Luke loves the no-tryout policy for sports at his school. Regardless of experience or skill level, the school encourages participation. As a member of the football, basketball, cross country, soccer and track and field teams, Luke has taken full advantage of this invitation!

The Johnson family is not alone in wanting Catholic education for their family. Last year, diocesan Catholic schools had their highest enrollment in 25 years, with more than 5,300 students. Superintendent of Catholic Schools Misty Poe expects the enrollment to be even higher this year. The theme of Joyful Disciples was chosen with the hope and expectation that the pandemic challenges have been addressed and the educational environment has successfully adjusted. 

“It is time for children, faculty and staff to have a faith-filled and joyful experience at school,” Poe said.

Growth in enrollment is also propelling major changes in three campuses. St. Austin Catholic School is in the process of building a five-story combined school and parish building. The entire school has temporarily moved to San José Parish a few miles south of St. Austin. St. Michael’s Catholic Academy is developing the Hub for Advanced Learning Opportunities (HALO). This project includes a curriculum and campus expansion to expose students to different disciplines to help them determine their college plan of study. Due to its growing enrollment of more than 650 students, Holy Family Catholic School is adding four new buildings. 

To ensure that Catholic education remains true to its mission in a changing world, this year the schools will study and discuss the new document from the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, “The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue.”

With recent acts of school violence in the news, Poe also addressed the safety issues that are on the minds of all families. “Catholic schools have always had good safety protocols in place. We are dedicated to the physical and emotional safety of our students, staff and families,” she said. 

There are ongoing training requirements for all employees and volunteers through the Ethics and Integrity in Ministry program. For crisis-related training, a partnership has been established with the I Love U Guys Foundation. Also, there is an anonymous reporting system available for students at each campus with 24/7 monitoring capabilities.

“Each member of our Catholic school community is a gift created by God in his image and likeness, and we are committed to being faithful stewards of each other,” Poe said.

To learn more about the 20 Catholic schools in the Diocese of Austin, visit the Explore Catholic Education website (csdatx.org/explore), where there is information about each school, registration, and financial aid. The diocese has the goal of making Catholic education accessible and affordable to all through various tuition assistance programs.

Mary P. Walker has written for the Catholic Spirit for more than 20 years. She and her husband are parishioners of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in College Station.