Things I Said and Wrote: My St. Hugo Speech

Not sure why I feel the need to preface this with a preamble, but this is something I wrote and had the honor to share with people at my church and school a few weeks ago. And while I’m proud of my faith, my kids, my church and my school, this is not supposed to read as if anything in my life is particularly superior or better than anyone else’s. This is merely about my journey and how I ended up here and how having this particular parish in my life, I believe, has made me a better person. 

But I do believe the main premise holds for everyone – if we surround ourselves with good people doing good things, the fall out is much better than the alternative.

Enjoy my little essay on why being Catholic and sendings my children to St. Hugo Catholic School is one of the better decisions I’ve made…

Last year my message about the benefits of a Catholic School education involved talking about the migration patterns of geese. So for those who remember that – honk, honk.

This year, my message is much more to the point: I send my children to St. Hugo’s Catholic School because being Catholic is totally cool.

And what else is cool? The new Pope. And it’s not just me who thinks he’s cool. A little thing called Time Magazine named him “Coolest Person of the Year.”

This Pope is like a headline making machine.

It seems as if every day there’s a new story about the Pope. Each story more incredible than the one before it. When he kisses the face of a disfigured man or sneaks out at night in plain clothes and feeds the poor, it’s humbling. And to hear of Jorge Bergoglio venturing into the poorest, most dangerous areas of Buenos Aires before he became Pope Francis, riding graffiti covered trams …trams, because subway routes wouldn’t even go to the areas where he’d go to pray and perform charity – it inspires me.

But my favorite story is a story I heard only recently. A 12-year-old boy, who’s parents decided there was a better place for him to go to school, moved him away from all his friends and everything he knew and put him in a new school. Then, on what was to be his first day at this new school, the boy refused to go into school at all.

His parents tried to convince him to give it a try, but he wouldn’t budge. His parents were ready to give in and forget the whole thing, even though they knew this school would be better for him. But the boy felt like a stranger. He felt alone. Then something amazing happened. A student who already went to the school walked up to the boy, put his arm around his shoulder – actually, two students approached him, basically fighting each other to welcome this new boy – and the boy told him, “let’s go. I’m your friend. My friends are your friends. So there. You’ve got friends here. This is a great place. You’re going to love it here. You got this.”

Who were these extraordinarily kind, gracious, and generous boys? Is this a story that took place somewhere in the distant past in a far away place, and I’m about to tell you the boy who told him, “you got this,” grew up to be Pope?

No, these wonderfully kind boys belong to my Parish and go to St. Hugo School.

Maybe you knew where I was heading with that. Maybe not.

That 12-year-old boy, who was entering 7th grade at the time, and who refused to even leave his parents car and walk into his new school …he goes here and he’s now an 8th Grader heading off to a Catholic High School.

The other 12-year-old who told him, “you got this?” He’s a St. Hugo 8th Grader, too, and so are all of his friends who just, sorta, naturally live their lives as Jesus tries to teach us every week in the Gospel, and as Pope Francis tells us and shows us we should live. These boys are shining examples of how we look when we truly follow the words of Christ.

I heard this story from the father of that new boy. I wish you could read that father’s entire email. He has a daughter at St. Hugo, as well, and he has equally amazing stories when it comes to her friends. This Dad said, “I’ve never seen anything like that and thinking back on that day, and the year and a half since, I’m happy every day we made the decision for him.”

St. Hugo’s is a school that teaches faith and charity, and when it does, and my kids come home asking for money to donate to relief efforts in Haiti or they reach into their clothes drawers and find things they haven’t worn so they can donate them, it inspires and teaches me, too.

We live in a world where bullies make headlines and the “cool kids” don’t follow rules. Here at St. Hugo, the “cool kids” are the very opposite of bullies …they are peace makers. You’ll see a display in the Parish gathering area showing students who were named “Student of the Month.” Do they get selected because of grades or academic achievement? No. Their teachers catch them doing something, on their own, that shows true charity and kindness and they’re named Student of the Month because they are shining examples of students living in the way Jesus teaches us to live.

Maybe these Students of the Month helped a fellow student with their math or geography? Maybe they saw someone who needed a friend when school and homework were getting a little overwhelming.

Something I pointed out last year I feel like I should point out again. Research shows the #1 influence on your child, like it or not, will be their peers. At St. Hugo’s School, your children’s peers take their grades and education seriously. Parents are involved and care. Your child is rewarded for living as Jesus taught us. They will work hard in charity and extra curricular activities (of which there are MANY), and they will be proud Catholics celebrating our faith and traditions.

In the book, Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio, the Pope talks about the moment he was first called by God to the priesthood, and he’s very mystical about it, saying God left the door open for him for several years. Though I can’t go back to 1955 when Pope Francis says he was called, and then to 1957 when Jorge Bergoglio finally entered Seminary, I have to believe the thoughts in his head weren’t all that different than what you and I have floating around our heads. Self doubt? Questioning whether we should pray more. Or maybe we wonder if a Catholic School really is a better choice. Maybe it does make sense and we should listen to our gut.

Is it your gut? Or maybe something else – or Someone else – gently nudging you to the doors of St. Hugo.

Like God left the door open for Jorge Bergoglio, our door is always open and we’d love for your children, your grandchildren, your cousins, or even your neighbors, who might only need a warm invitation from you, to attend our school and make it stronger. To make our school more capable of giving and making more amazing 12-year-olds who’ll head onto high school, college, and into this world making it a better place … one arm-around-the-shoulder at a time.

I, on behalf of Sister Margaret and everyone at St. Hugo School, invite you to visit our school and arrange a tour. If you’ve ever thought about St. Hugo and a Catholic education as an option for your child, but maybe you’re a little scared, come and see me, personally – or maybe I’ll ask those 8th Graders. We’re giving tours along with many other faculty, parents, and students who love the special gift this school is and let us put our arm around you and say ….you got this.

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