Meetings don’t begin with prayer at my place of employment. As a company, we don’t gather for a weekly Mass, and there is no religious art in our lobby; no crucifixes on the walls of our conference rooms. There is no official discussion of religion, faith, Gospel values, saints that have gone before us, or saints who may be in our midst. And all of this is completely appropriate. I work for a Fortune 100 company, headquartered in Milwaukee, and the people who come to work each day come from a beautiful array of backgrounds—some religious, some not. I have no doubt there are silent prayers being offered throughout the day at work; and I’m sure that choices that many employees make in regard to ethics in the workplace are driven by their personal beliefs, but religion, prayer and faith have no part in the official company vision, mission or day-to-day operations. The vast majority of adults in the workforce share my experience. Unless a person works for a faith-based organization, such as a church, school, hospital, or social service agency, the workplace is devoid of references to the role of faith in our lives.
And perhaps it’s my days in sleek modern rooms on global conference calls that make me so grateful for my children’s Catholic schools. Perhaps it’s the absence of the cross in my own cafeteria that makes me appreciate the one where my girls eat, at Holy Family School in Whitefish Bay. Maybe the reason I feel such joy at an evening Dominican meeting that begins with prayer is that earlier in the day I went to three meetings that only began with the review of the agenda.
Our four children will likely spend most of their lives in secular workplaces, as my husband and I do. After graduating, they will enter a world that talks little of prayer, religion or spirituality. The gods of consumerism and achievement will snap at them, asking them to worship at the altar of status. The loud call to service they now hear from their Catholic schools will become a whisper, with the idea of servant leadership sounding paradoxical when compared to the traditional model of leadership intertwined with power. Church will be optional; religion compartmentalized.
I see the world rushing at my children like a tidal wave, and I see my children being prepared by their Catholic schools to swim well and swim hard—not being taught to flee from the inevitable strength of the current culture and time—but rather being trained for what is to come. I see in our older boys, who have been through 14 and 17 years of Catholic education respectively, a commitment to social justice, prayer and faith that goes beyond what my husband and I taught them. I credit their Catholic schools from K4 onward for building on what Bill and I began at home—for giving them a wide variety of teachers who approached faith, prayer and service differently than Bill and me, but within a similar context. I see in our middle school girls a developing faith and a deepening morality. I watch the girls discover their own pattern and ways of praying; I see them approach service as a positive, fun event, whether it’s scooping out meatloaf at St. Ben’s meal program or reading to children at the Next Door Foundation. I see their sense of suburban name-brand entitlement begin to fade in the wake of these experiences.
My children will need to make their own choices in terms of the place of faith, religion, prayer and service in their lives, as they grow up. Indeed, Jacob and Liam are making some of those decisions on their own, already. What I want for my children is an awareness of God present in every moment of every day. What I want is for them to know as adults is that prayer is within reach, that love comes out of prayer and service is the response to love. I want the cross, the Gospel values and the strength of the resurrection to be so much a part of who each of my children is, that even if they are in a Fortune 100 company, in a sleek modern room, on a global conference call, they will understand they are nevertheless in the presence of God. I want them to know that in a world of power and prestige, they are called to nothing more (and nothing less) than servant leadership. And I believe their current day-to-day breathing of faith in school; with God as the focus and the reason for learning; with experience of service in response to the Gospels—this way of spending their childhood will lead them to an adulthood of living their faith and understanding that God is everywhere, even when unspoken and unseen.
Happy Catholic Schools Week. Thank you St. Monica; Holy Family; Dominican; Notre Dame.