Parents As Members of the High School Faith Community

About this article

The need for parent faith formation is very important. This article explores how the Catholic high school can provide programs and opportunities for parents to learn, grow, and participate in the faith formation of their teens and the school.

In 1977 when I began teaching and ministering in the high school apostolate, parents were not considered a part of the official work on student retreats. As the teachers, we had the answers for their sons and daughters; we had the education and the spirituality. It would have been rare for a parent to be included in a significant leadership role on the campus ministry team. The job of parents was to support us as cooks or drivers; they certainly were not viewed as collaborators!

Today I can see that our myopic view has shifted. Increasingly we have begun to see parents as allies and, in fact, collaborators. As the number of Jesuits in the high school apostolate has decreased, the need to include the laity in the Jesuit mission has mushroomed. In the last ten years, locally and nationally, the Society of Jesus has promoted a vision of Jesuit-lay collaboration.

In examining my own attitude, I discover that I have been guilty of a bit of professional arrogance. I thought that parents could not possibly have much of a role in their adolescent's faith formation. My training, education, and experience were of greater value than the experience of the parent. Looking back I can see that this attitude pitted me against parents.

Parents As Witnesses

In recent years we have become increasingly confident about enlisting the leadership, faith, and spirituality of parents in ministering to their children and their children's peers, especially in retreat work. Like many other Catholic schools across the country, we have asked for and received countless volunteer hours from parents in assisting in our ministry to their children. Thanks be to God for parental support! Currently there isn't an overnight retreat that takes place at Bellarmine Preparatory School that doesn't involve the witness of parents. Parents participate in small group work just as teachers do on our two-and-a-half-day Junior Encounter, our three-and-a-half-day Senior Magis, our two-day Senior Pilgrimage, and our overnight Montserrat (silent) retreats.

In Evangelium Vitae, Our Holy Father, Pope Saint John Paul II, points out that in raising children . . . the family fulfills its mission to proclaim the Gospel of Life. By word and example, in the daily round of relations and choices, and through concrete actions and signs, parents lead their children to authentic freedom, actualized in the sincere gift of self. . . . Parents must be concerned about their children's faith and help them to fulfill the vocation God has given them. (Number 92) Our retreat experience has shown that including parents, as John Paul teaches, has blessed us as well as the young people we attempt to form in the image of Christ.

Parents As Seekers

One and a half years ago, our school had the opportunity to create the position of director of adult formation, a role that had previously been one of my responsibilities as campus minister. Over these last two school years, Fr. Greg Vance, SJ, with the support of the administration of the school, has begun to target our adult community as his specific mission. Besides working with faculty, he has begun to reach out to parents at parent association meetings, board of director meetings and retreats, as well as offering ongoing educational classes to Bellarmine parents, teachers, and members of nearby parishes. These are offered during Advent and Lent, with each series focusing on a topic such as the Scriptures or sacraments. His goal is to present current theological reflection in order to stimulate questions, build faith, and help the adult members of the high school community find resources for their own growth in Christ.

Just as faculty faith formation indirectly serves our students, so does parent faith formation. Again, in Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II writes, "In this mobilization for a new culture of life no one must feel excluded: everyone has an important role to play" (number 98). As we continue to include more parents in campus ministry, and as we offer more parents tools for their own spiritual growth, we minister more effectively to our students. We are slowly learning that including parents transforms kids.


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Published April 1, 2001.