Editor’s note: Last names have been omitted to protect the families’ privacy.
ORLANDO | Catholic schools in the Diocese of Orlando provide top-notch academics, but it is the faith element and community that sets them apart. Three families share the joys and sacrifices made to make Catholic schools a reality for their children, from Pre-K to 12th grade, including a school for special-needs students.
Jenny and Shawn have four children attending Good Shepherd Catholic School in Orlando. Both parents were products of Catholic schooling and wanted their children “to have the same nurturing community” and “establish a foundation for a lifelong relationship with God.”
“We wanted their faith to be a daily part of their lives and be surrounded by a community with similar values,” Shawn said, adding they have not been disappointed.
Jenny recalled when her husband was deployed to Kuwait in 2009 how teachers and administrators checked on them daily. At that time, the school invited Sophia, then 6, to bring up the folded American flag during Mass. Another time when the youngest child was in neonatal intensive care, classes of children sent home gifts, including artwork and individual prayers. The school also arranged a surprise arrival when Shawn returned home.
“Our Good Shepherd community has really rallied behind our family during particularly difficult situations,” Jenny said. “All of these moments, knowing you are being prayed for by friends in a loving, supportive community are another reason we so love and appreciate Good Shepherd Catholic School.”
Shawn was also given the rare glimpse of the fruit of this “village” of faith when their daughter Sophia was asked to read an essay she wrote on why prayer is important to her. She spoke about how the Good Shepherd community rallied around her little brother as he spent the first six weeks of his life in the hospital and had multiple surgeries. Her brother is now a healthy Pre-K3 student at the school.
“She talked about her personal relationship with God and how she prays and is comforted by it, quoting Scripture to drive her point home to the audience,” he said. “God put me in attendance that morning. It was the first time I was able to go to the school’s Mass all school year. He brought me there to tell me that Sophia ‘gets it’ and it was all worth it.”
Another set of parents — Suzy and Ed — have two daughters attending Catholic schools in Lakeland. One is a freshman at Santa Fe Catholic High School and another is a fourth-grader at St. Anthony Catholic School. The couples’ decision to choose Catholic schools initially had to do with their concern regarding school zoning. Soon after their decision, Suzy learned she was pregnant. Despite the financial strain of her two jobs as a clinical social worker and her husband’s full-time schedule, Suzy said, “There are days we wonder how it’s going to work, then I get the call for more home health visits. I don’t know how we do it, but I’m sure it’s God’s intervention.”
Two other parents — Melissa and Michael — live in Clermont. Their children attend three different Catholic schools in Orlando. Melissa drives almost 100 miles per day to get them to sports and clubs at Bishop Moore Catholic High School, Holy Family Catholic School and Morning Star School. Melissa said Catholic schools add a unique element to her children’s education.
“My freshman daughter was challenged in religion class with how to prove God is real,” Melissa explained. “I love that they make her think. My second-grader, who is making sacraments this year, continuously questions what is and isn’t a sin. I love that she has a conscience. My seventh-grader is always thinking of others. She volunteers at food banks and homeless shelters. We are currently experiencing freezing weather in Florida and she gathered up blankets to hand out to homeless people. I love her kindness. My third-grader reminds us to pray the rosary daily while driving to school. I love her innocent faith.
“My children aren’t angels at all, but they’ve been given compassion, love and kindness which are needed every day,” Melissa said. “So, I think they are well-equipped for the journey that lies ahead.”