On Religion in a Catholic School

My education encouraged religion as a constant in my life since I was young. I attended a Lutheran preschool, Catholic school from Kindergarten through eighth grade and a single-gender Catholic convent high school. My immediate family identifies as Catholic, and my extended family is a mixture of Catholics and Episcopalians. When I checked the boxes on my college applications, I marked “Roman Catholic” because I identified with Catholicism for most of my life, but I questioned whether or not that was my true faith. I duly felt liberal and Catholic, and those two personas seemingly either deeply conflicted or correlated. 

I have always struggled with Catholic teaching; I practiced the faith but often lacked an understanding of its doctrine. I am a native Minnesotan, and I remember when the archbishop required all priests in the diocese to read a letter that strongly supported the state’s proposed ban on same-sex marriage when I was in elementary school. The priest stood uncomfortably at the ambo as he read it aloud; my father took out the daily bulletin and held it up to read it, deliberately ignoring the archbishop’s letter, while a family friend simply walked out of the Church where he was scheduled to read that Sunday.

Photo courtesy of the University of Notre Dame.

In the wake of the priest sexual abuse scandals, the lack of tangible action on behalf of the Catholic Church from the Vatican proved similarly frustrating. Meanwhile, I could no longer agree with the divisive and discriminatory messages from my church back home, and that was when I truly began to question whether or not I wanted to identify as a Catholic. However, Pope Francis presents a Catholic figure that I agree with in many ways. I appreciate his emphasis on Catholic social teaching through caring for the environment in his encyclical Laudato si’ and his encouragement of acceptance and compassion of all people, especially the vulnerable, sick and ostracized. His humble leadership presents an inspiring example of living one’s faith, which Fr. Jenkins commented on, stating, “[Pope Francis] has reminded us that the way we live our lives is the most important expression of our Catholic identity.”

Some of my friends are Catholic; others are Protestant, while several are Muslim or Jewish. Some are atheist, and one of my friends was drawn to Buddhism. Conversations about religion and belief are frequent, and our education provided a platform to pursue a deeper understanding of faith. My high school was part of a convent of sisters who we all knew by name; the sisters had a separate convent in North Minneapolis that acted as a safe place in an often struggling community. Those women built powerful and loving relationships with community members in the area, and their homes were a place of refuge in an area where many feared ICE or violence. This was exactly the part of my faith that I identified with so wholeheartedly, and their example of compassion through their lived faith was inspiring. 

Photo courtesy of the University of Notre Dame.

I have also always loved the Catholic connection to Mary – Notre Dame – and so I am drawn to the Grotto here on campus. My relationship with the Church is undoubtedly tenuous, and I continue to struggle with where faith stands in my life, but I am learning to separate the institution from the faith and the people that comprise the Catholic Church. I am continuing my journey through Catholic education in choosing Notre Dame and, as has been the case for my entire life, education will continue to form my personal, political and faithful journeys.