February 1, 2017
My Catholic Grade School Is Where It All Began
Last Saturday I had the honor of speaking at a dinner in Austin, Texas, to benefit their schools: Can I share my talk with you as we find ourselves in Catholic Schools Week?
Thank you, Diocese of Austin!
I am happy and honored to be with you!
Often have I heard of your hospitality and friendliness here in Texas, and now I sense it personally.
So, thanks for your gracious invitation and warm welcome.
I come as a friend and admirer of your good bishop...
I come, really, because I will go anywhere to speak about our beloved Catholic schools.
You know, I have twenty-four years of Catholic education, from grade school through doctoral studies, and I consider it essential and contributing to everything I am and do.
Of course you’d say that about yourself, one might reply, but that esteem for my own Catholic schooling is validated by so many others.
In New York, I daily meet with movers and shakers, CEOs and business moguls. Often do they tell me that, when they see that a job applicant is a product of a Catholic school, they favor that applicant and take a closer look. Why, I ask them? Because the Church does it so well! If they have graduated from a Catholic school, these executives tell me, an applicant can spell, write, read, add, subtract, is courteous and disciplined, reliable and hardworking. Not bad!
By now some of you are asking, “Then why can’t my kid get a job!”
Now, of all of my two-dozen years of Catholic education, including college, a venerable university in Rome, and The Catholic University of America in D.C., none were more profitable to me than my eight years at Holy Infant Grade School in Ballwin, Missouri. I would not be the man, the human being, the believer I am today without those eight years in my parish grade school. When those people, my folks included, founded the parish in 1954, even before a permanent church, a rectory, or a hall, they built a school. And I’m glad they did.
Mind you, I’m far from perfect, and am aware of my flaws...but it’s my Catholic elementary school education that taught me to acknowledge those humbly, and to face hell when they surfaced.
I have to give a lot of talks like this. So, the organizers always ask, “How do you want us to introduce you?”
I always reply, “I really don’t care what you say, as long as it’s short, and as long as it starts, ’Timothy Dolan is the oldest of five children born to Bob and Shirley Dolan, and graduated from Holy Infant grade school in 1964.’”
The rest, folks, is gravy—the meat and potatoes is my folks, family, and Catholic grade school.
Catholic schools are so effective because they teach us
to love God and our neighbor,
to serve the Lord and others,
to get to heaven by living virtuously and
to love God and country.
To love God and country...
I saw that last Thanksgiving. My five-year-old grandnephew, Walt, is in kindergarten at St. Francis School in Washington, Missouri. Walt was eager to tell me, “Uncle Tim, I know the ‘Our Father’ and the Pledge of Allegiance. I learned them at school.”
“Wow, Walt,” I responded, “let’s hear them!”
Sure enough, little Walt buzzed through the Lord’s Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance very well, just as he had learned at St. Francis grade school. God and country...
So, at Thanksgiving dinner, when the family asked me to lead grace, I announced, “Nope, I’m going to ask Walt to pray the ‘Our Father.’”
Oh, he beamed! “Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name...with liberty and justice for all. Amen.”
So much for separation of Church and State! But, you get the point! Walt had already learned love for God and country, at five.
I’m looking out in admiration at people who love God and our country. I also realize all of you worry about our country, and about the faith of our kids and grandkids.
Every day you’re hit with appeals from good causes dedicated to ameliorating one of these many problems.
I hear more and more people observe, “There are so many needs, so many causes, so many problems that need my help. I wish there were one cause that would let me help all those needs.”
Guess what? There is.
You worried about the epidemic of drug and substance abuse? Well, you should. Statistics show that graduates of Catholic grade and high schools have a better record of avoiding addiction than others;
You are concerned about the poor and hungry? Glad you are. Studies show alumni of Catholic grade and high schools land better jobs, have more stable and lucrative employment, and avoid the unemployment and financial woes that lead to poverty; and our graduates are much more likely to volunteer in service to the poor;
You are anxious that your kids are going to believe in God, go to Church, and seek virtue? The stats show that graduates of Catholic elementary and secondary schools have higher levels of faith, pray more often, attend Church on Sunday, volunteer more often in community projects, give more to the poor and to the Church, and are much more likely to think about a vocation to the priesthood and religious life;
How about good marriages and strong families? You fret about that? You ought to. Here we go again: the research shows that those who attended Catholic schools have happier, faithful marriages, more kids, more unified families, and—get this—more satisfying sex lives—now, there, folks, I’m an amateur and must trust the experts —than others.
I could go on and on...but you get the point: you want to support one cause that helps them all, be generous to our Catholic schools.
Former police commissioner of the NYPD Ray Kelly told me often, “Most of my cops are products of Catholic schools.”
And a Marine general assured me, “40% of the Corps are Catholic, and those who went to Catholic schools are the finest.”
I was once at a symposium on support for Catholic schools where former Florida Governor Jeb Bush spoke. He told the audience, made up of high wheelers, “Look, I realize most of you give a lot of money to the colleges you went to. That’s good. But, listen, why not give a bundle to the Catholic grade school or high school you went to? Odds are they don’t have an endowment. You could not have graduated from that college you give to if you hadn’t gone to that Catholic school.”
Folks, our schools are Catholic. That means they belong to everybody. We just don’t count on the parents, or the parishioners, or the diocese to subsidize them. We all got the duty!
And friends, let’s drop the hospice attitude about our schools. The way some of us whine, you’d think our beloved schools are “on hospice”—we love them, we sure have fond memories of them, we are grateful for them...but, well, according to this mentality, they’re slowly dying. The best we can do is prolong their days a bit, and help them die painlessly.
Malarky! They are strong, promising, bold, and gritty. They fight for every penny they got so they’re not spoiled or feeling they’re entitled to everything. The problem is not with the team but with us, the spectators, who wring our hands and bemoan their passing.
Don’t wring your hands: fold them in prayer and use them to sign a check!
And the major problem our schools have, at least where I come from? We need more students! Oh, everybody recognizes they’re the best, everybody says, “Oh, I wish I could send my children there,” but fewer and fewer do...so more schools close...because the parents can’t afford it. That’s why we need scholarships!
In the Archdiocese of New York, we recently completed a $120 million capital campaign for scholarships to our schools. Steve Schwarzman, a prominent civic and business leader, not a Catholic, gave us one-third of that. When I thanked him, he replied, “Listen, I’m a good businessman. I run an enterprise here in New York. I need good workers and prosperous clients. They come from Catholic schools. For me, it’s a sound investment.”
And never forget the soul, the spiritual. We say in New York, “Our Catholic schools just don’t get our students into good colleges and good jobs. They get our kids into heaven.”
Recently, I visited a little five-year-old girl, dying from leukemia, in the hospital. I spent time with her distraught dad, a very wealthy, influential man.
“Cardinal,” he began, “I could buy this hospital, I could fly in any oncologist from anywhere in the world. But, right now, there’s absolutely nothing more I can do for my little girl. All my power and wealth is of no help. The only thing that keeps me going is the prayer I learned in fourth grade at St. Joseph grade school. Will you say it with me for my little sweetheart?” And together we prayed the Memorare.
To have a better life here for ourselves and for others; to have an eternal life in heaven.
The Catholic school product...
Now, if that’s not worth fighting for, I don’t know what is! Thanks!