Blessings of Catholic education far outweigh the costs, parents say
By Jean Torkelson
Mary Mares, Catholic school mom, has an annual ritual:
“Every August I say, ‘OK, God, how are we going to do this?’ And every June I’m saying, ‘Thank you God, for helping us to do whatever we had to do to make it work.’”
Mary’s is one of the 6,674 families who choose to send their children to Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Denver. Yes, the cost exceeds that of public schools—but so do the rewards. Here are stories of four families who find the sacrifice in time and money is well worth it.
Mary Mares, 43, may be among the more financially pressured, and also among the most loyal, of Catholic school parents.
“I grew up surrounded by God my whole life,” she said.
She wanted no less for her children. When her eldest child was just 3, she put him on a Catholic school waiting list.
The commitment grew harder when she got divorced six years ago and her ex-husband didn’t care to contribute to Catholic education for their four kids, who now are ages 10 to 18.
So Mary works—currently at three jobs. Over the years those jobs have included teaching, hanging dry wall and working as a private chef. And she applies for every scholarship she can.
The result? All four kids have attended, or are attending, Notre Dame School in Denver. John recently graduated from Machebeuf High School in Denver, and her oldest daughter, Madison, is a sophomore there.
“I believe that it is important to have God in their lives every single day to help them on their journey,” she said.
The key is to prioritize.
“We rent a town home, we don’t use credit cards, we don’t have the normal luxuries most people do.” she said. “The priority in my home is, God first, always.”
‘We don’t back down’
Becky and Chris Morley, both 38, grew up together in the same neighborhood and graduated in 1992 from Chatfield Senior High School. But after they married, they agreed that the choice for their four boys, now ages 2 to 10, was Catholic school. When they moved back from the Boston area, they knew St. Vincent de Paul School in Denver was the place for them.
“We feel our world has become much more secularized and we’re not interested in exposing our children to the relativism that’s being taught in the public schools,” said Becky. “It’s a case of drawing the line in the sand—morally, ethically and religiously. We don’t back down from our beliefs and we want to teach our kids the truth.”
She added, “We’re trying to get our kids to heaven, and we want to do it with other parents who feel same way.”
Becky is a homemaker and Chris a telecom executive, so their most significant sacrifice isn’t financial as much as it is time.
“You have to volunteer; it’s what we do to serve the Lord,” she said. “We’re called to help our community, to keep it functioning, and, hopefully, we are evangelizing through our children.”
‘Blessing more than sacrifice’
When John and Elizabeth Labenski of Edwards researched charter schools for their three kids, now ages 3 to 7, nothing clicked. Then they found St. Clare of Assisi School.
“We think that was God’s plan,” Elizabeth said. “Blessed as we are to live in this country, it’s so secularized now that we feel it would be confusing to send our children to a school system where God is not welcome. We want this to be in their lives 24 hours a day—to be able to pray and talk about their faith and be around other children who are able to love Jesus the same way.”
School loomed just as the economy collapsed, forcing John out of his real estate career. He has since opened an insurance agency, but years of financial uncertainty have taken their toll.
The school “has been generous with tuition assistance,” Elizabeth said. “We are obligated to volunteer a certain amount of time but I have found that to be a blessing more than a sacrifice.”
Still, John points out that Elizabeth—a highly trained musician and former music teacher at Iowa State University—has shouldered the bigger sacrifice, which is time away from her professional work. But their kids’ success makes the sacrifice worth it. Or as Elizabeth put it, “As an educator, I see them growing spiritually, intellectually and socially.”
When Tracy and Robert Alarcon moved to Denver from Reno, Nev., about five years ago, they put their son Bobby in a public school kindergarten.
“It had wonderful academics except for a nurturing piece, and a lack of catechesis, ” Tracy said. “That was definitely missing.”
Then they found Most Precious Blood School.
“He’s thriving now,” she said.
In addition to “fantastic academics and a nurturing education, I see a lot more passion for his faith, which he did not have before,” Tracy said.
Tracy is principal at St. Rose of Lima School, so Bobby, now 11, and their daughter Kayla, 6, could have received a tuition break there. But the Alarcons decided it wasn’t a good idea to have Mom double as their school principal.
The upshot is, “it’s a huge financial sacrifice … there are a lot of things I’d like to do with that money,” she said. “But when you see your kids thriving, that’s all that matters. It sets them up for future success, to be successful in college but also successes morally—they are becoming fine human beings because they are receiving a Catholic education.”
Jean Torkelson: 303-715-3122; www.twitter.com/DCRegister
Run by the Denver Archdiocese
(Data from 2011-2012 academic year)