“He is truly there in the Eucharist,” says Amelia Shripka. The 8th-grader at Everest Collegiate High School and Academy in Clarkston, Michigan takes delight in the Eucharistic procession that her school holds every year. It’s a “great time to reflect on what Jesus did for us,” she says.
But according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, such strong faith is increasingly uncommon. The Pew study found that only 26 percent of U.S. Catholics under age 40 believe in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist.
So how does the Church restore faith in its most precious sacrament? One key solution is the renewal of faithful Catholic education, whether in parochial schools, lay-run schools, online programs or in the home.
At Everest School, Amelia says there are “many opportunities to be with God” that help her grow “closer and closer to Him.”
Students visit the Eucharist daily. “There are four chapels on campus, which means that students never have to go far to have the opportunity to encounter Christ in the Eucharist,” says a school representative. Students encounter the Eucharist from the time they are “very young,” and second-graders complete an authentically Catholic preparation program at the school before their first Communion.
This is the kind of formation that is needed to address the crisis in our Church today. It urgently needs the support and encouragement of Catholic leaders and families.
Forming young people in the Faith requires Catholic parents and educators who once again embrace the Church’s foundational principles and vision for Catholic education.
The Church expects Catholic educators to not only teach the Faith, but also provide living encounters with Christ. “Catechesis is intrinsically linked with the whole of liturgical and sacramental activity, for it is in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, that Christ Jesus works in fullness for the transformation of human beings” (Catechesi Tradendae, 23).
And we can look to the examples of faithful Catholic schools—including those recognized by the Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Education Honor Roll—to help curb the statistics reported by the Pew.
For instance, Holy Family Academy in Manassas, Virginia says it is “committed to continuing the wisdom of the not-so-distant past” when it comes to forming students in the Faith.
“My dad went to Catholic schools from grade school to college,” says Mo Woltering, the school’s headmaster. His father went to daily Mass every day of his school career and attended Georgetown University in the 1940s, when students were still expected to go to Mass. Few schools today require students to attend daily Mass, but Woltering finds that the practice works well for his Holy Family students.
“We want students to have a daily encounter with the Person of Christ, Who is fully present in the Blessed Sacrament,” he explains. “The daily encounter with the Person Who is Truth can only help our mission to discover Truth in the classroom.”
Students at Holy Family are exposed to beautiful and reverent liturgies in both the Ordinary Form and Extraordinary Form. “The Catholic faith informs all that we do at Holy Family, and indeed is the reason for all that we do,” the school proclaims.
Mary Star of the Sea High School in San Pedro, California—another Honor Roll school— “teaches about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist both in the classroom and at Adoration and Benediction,” according to the school’s rector, Fr. Nicolas Tacito. Students are also taught about the “different Eucharistic Miracles that have taken place over the years.”
St. Michael’s Abbey Preparatory School—a Catholic boarding school in Silverado, California, run by the Norbertine Fathers—has had great success for more than five decades with a highly traditional program. Students attend daily Mass, receive the Eucharist kneeling, and attend Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every evening. Here “lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi” guides the formation of young people.
Sadly, next year St. Michael’s will be one of the thousands of Catholic schools to have closed their doors in the United States over the last half-century. Reversing this trend and preserving the faithful education of schools such as this, while giving increasing attention to new faithful options like homeschooling and lay-established independent schools, will be important to forming the next generation of Catholics.
Many Catholic schools have seen the wonderful fruits of their dedication to authentic Catholic education. A great example is Mount Royal Academy in Sunapee, New Hampshire, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, and has been blessed with more than 40 conversions to the Catholic faith among its students.
“Many of these conversions involve students who, from their own volition, decide to embrace the Catholic faith on their own,” says Derek Tremblay, headmaster of the Academy. “This is because students encounter the Eucharist in weekly Mass, first and foremost.”
“Each boy in our school looks forward to serving at the altar, and the sacred music is carefully selected to ensure the beauty of the liturgy is adequately represented,” he says. But he is careful to note that “we do not create the Mass experience.” Instead, “we practice the traditional worship that has worked since antiquity, and each high moment in the academic calendar is connected to the liturgical year. If we are going to celebrate anything, we do so with the Holy Eucharist.”
Still, before the latest Pew data was released, Mount Royal’s school leadership team prepared a plan to focus even more attention on the Eucharist and teacher formation this coming school year. “Reverence toward the Eucharist remains the most important educational objective of Catholic education,” Tremblay says.
And the Pew study, he adds, is a stark reminder that “we can no longer think we are doing enough.”
[Photo credit: Everest Collegiate High School and Academy]