"Why are you sending your kids to Catholic school in a town with a good school system?"
I was collared at the block party by a neighbor — a graduate of St. Eulalia's in Maywood. How could I respond?
"My kids go to Ascension because I want them to grow up like you"? (Curious, thoughtful, hard-working)
How about: "I want to relive the Chicago parochial school experience that my mother and her six siblings and four gazillion cousins had on the Southeast Side during the 1940s"? (The ones who spell perfectly and roll their eyes when they talk about the nuns who taught them.)
"I feel supported as a Catholic"? (Does that sound corny!)
My husband and I are public school grads. Yet we feel so grateful to send our kids to Ascension School.
Since I had such a hard time answering the question, I canvassed Ascension parents and asked them to give me three ideas that best describe their experience of Catholic School education.
"Checks, checks, checks," said one mother.
"Academics, sacrifice and a safe, healthy environment," said another.
"Everyone in my family went to Catholic school."
"Because I absolutely hated public junior high and I'd never make my kids do that."
"I didn't want to teach them religion at home," joked someone else.
"The science fair, the geography bee, and Mrs. Coffman's strings program."
"They still know, love and respect Mrs. Pesce [art teacher]. The tuition I paid was well worth it because they're turning out great kids."
Others spoke of friendships — among parents. "I'm closer to some of these other parents than I am to members of my own family," said a dad. "And I like 'em better, too."
Catholic schools are supposed to be clique-y. But our first semester at Ascension, I found out my father had stage-four lung cancer. Suddenly all the kids at school knew too, and kids were praying in their classrooms for him. Parents crossed the street to give me encouragement — me, the new parent who hadn't been here since pre-K. "How's your dad?" one father inquired. "Well, he's dying," I said, simply. "That's the next step," he said kindly. And it was true.
Yes, we've got a larger-than-most family. We feel right at home with other bigger families here. They understand hand-me-downs, furniture from Brown Elephant and "water only" at restaurants — back when we went to restaurants.
Yes, the cost is frustrating. The church wants you to have children — more hearts and hands to help the world. The proverb says, "Every baby is born with a loaf of bread under his arm." But wow, how about paying a double mortgage every month?
And, to be fair, the parishioners give — a lot — so my kids can attend Ascension. Tuition only covers part of the cost. The teachers, of course, are paid far less than they're worth.
We covet the resources of District 97. After all, they have crossing guards! Robotics class! Speech therapy! BRAVO and CAST!
We could go on vacation, maybe even go out to eat — if we didn't go to Catholic school.
But maybe having everything isn't everything. Scarcity combined with high expectations is the Catholic school formula. It was for Irish immigrants at St. Dorothy's in the '40s and for the kids at Eulalia's in the '60s.
I'm hoping it's a formula that builds character — at least that's the wager I'm placing on my kids' childhoods.
Jean Lotus is editor of the Forest Park Review.
Answer Book 2019
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