As we are in the process of celebrating Catholic Schools Week here at St. Joseph Parish, I thought it would be important to offer some reflections on my own experience of Catholic Education over the years.
A product of Catholic education through grades K-12, I attended St. Hilary of Poitiers Catholic School in Rydal, PA, a suburb just outside of Philadelphia. I can credit the teachers, staff and clergy with the beginnings of my formation in the faith I received from my parents at my Baptism. I later attended La Salle College High School in Wyndmoor, PA where my parents taught Math and Science respectively for many years, retiring just last year. One could say that Education, and specifically Catholic Education, is in my blood in many respects. My grandfather, Joseph Feighan, taught Chemistry for many years at Cabrini College, outside of Philadelphia. My Aunt, Beannie, teaches at Francis Scott Key School in the Philadelphia Public School system. My uncle Joe, also teaches Chemistry at St. Joseph Preparatory School in Philadelphia. My aunt Maryann, taught for many years at Archbishop Ryan High School in Philadelphia. Finally, my great-aunt, Sister Maria Josita Feighan, a professed member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, taught at Immaculata College outside of Philadelphia for many years prior to her passing in 1993. Currently, both of my brothers are employed by the University of Notre Dame as well so the presence of Ponisciaks in education continues…
"Education is the art of helping young people to completeness; for the Christian, this means education is helping a young person to be more like Christ, the model of all Christians."
-- Bl. Basil Moreau, Christian Education
This quote from Blessed Basil Moreau is important to my understanding of what it means to receive a Catholic education. “Helping young people to completeness…to be more like Christ.” This is what all Catholic educators strive to do every day that they enter a classroom. It is with zeal that teachers instruct their students and help form them in their faith. A Catholic education is different from any other kind of education. Prior to entering the seminary, I had the opportunity to serve students in a public elementary school in Williamsburg, VA as a school counselor. While these four years helped foster a love for education for me, the most challenging factor was not being able to include one’s faith in the conversation. Eliminating God from the conversation was difficult because suddenly the most important piece of one’s development was left on the sidelines. Not being able to talk about God in many of my conversations with students was heartbreaking because I knew in my heart that His Love would have life changing effects on many of kids’ hearts.
Since my Priesthood Ordination, I’ve had the opportunity to help teach the students of St. Ignatius School in Austin, TX as well as the students at St. Joseph Grade School in South Bend, IN. Through my presence in these two schools, it is a fact that our students have a desire to know, love and serve God. This is simply the truth! We, clergy, staff and teachers, are here to help them come to know, love and serve God, however we can, whether that is in the classroom through discussion and learning, or through their presence at the Mass every week or through silent prayer and reflection with the Lord Jesus in Adoration. I don’t know where I’d be without the Catholic Education I received and I can thank God (and my parents) for the gift of it. Catholic schools provide a wonderful opportunity for students to come to know who Jesus is and what He is asking them to do with their lives. May we all continue to pray for Catholic Schools and continue to support Catholic schools however we can so the next generation can grow in their Catholic faith as well.
Fr. Dan Ponisciak, C.S.C., took his Final Vows with the Congregation of Holy Cross in the fall of 2014, and was ordained a priest in the spring of 2015. He was assigned to St. Ignatius Catholic Parish in Austin, Texas during his transitional Diaconate. He was recently re-assigned to St. Joseph Parish in South Bend, Indiana. Fr. Dan is originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.