In addition to quality education, Catholic schools throughout the diocese have a key component in common — a dedication to serving Christ and developing leaders who make a difference in their communities throughout their lives. From preschool through 12th grade, they learn the importance of giving back and thinking beyond themselves.
“Essentially, I think the goal is simply to provide youth with the opportunity to share the love of God for the poor and vulnerable,” said Harry Plummer, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Phoenix.
Students at St. John Bosco School in Phoenix are reminded that giving back is a daily part of life — not just for Thanksgiving and Christmas — through their Perkins Plan. Named after a former teacher, the school encourages families to donate a can a week to give to the local St. Vincent de Paul Society pantry. First grade teacher Jena Gump said students donate about 400 cans a week.
“I think for St. John Bosco, it is ingrained in our mission statement as followers of Jesus. We believe we were put on the earth to use our gifts by serving others,” Gump said.
When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and the Gulf coast region in mid-August, Gump said St. John Bosco students developed “Project Hope for Harvey,” where students in each grade donated crayons, books, cards and other games, action figures, balls and even hair accessories for Texas shelters. The school collected 16 moving boxes full of donations.
“They thought beyond themselves,” Gump said of St. John Bosco students. “[They thought] if they can have just a little bit of fun, it will give them hope.”
The school also collects pajamas for children during December to donate to Maggie’s Place, an organization that serves pregnant and parenting women in need in Phoenix.
“I think the service and the leadership opportunities are what makes Catholic education different,” Gump said. “… That is ultimately why we and family around the diocese have chosen Catholic education.”
At San Francisco de Asís School in Flagstaff, principal Bill Carroll said the goal for his school is to help students to become more Christ-like and to give back, as Christ gave up His life for all.
“If we can emulate Him in any way possible by donating clothing and food, it helps us to get closer to Him,” Carroll said.
Last year, students brought in flowers for the school’s May Crowning ceremony, and Carroll said he was inspired by the Year of Mercy to honor the dead by having eighth grade students bring the flowers to the local Catholic cemetery.
Xavier College Preparatory School in Phoenix, the only all-girls Catholic school in the diocese, raised almost $30,000 for Hurricane Harvey victims through Catholic Charities USA. Students build homes in Mexico and are expected to complete 50 hours of service in the community in their junior year.
“In serving others, there is an important aspect where they get out of themselves in encountering another person that is crucial in knowing what it is to truly be loved,” said Fr. Kevin Grimditch, school chaplain.
He said one of his objectives is to show students that success and happiness in life goes beyond a job, house and family, but is rooted in servant leadership.
“It certainly gives them a larger perspective of the world and draws them out of themselves, especially our service projects that are about leaving the country or serving the community itself,” Fr. Grimditch said.
At St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix, Patrick Madigan, executive director, said the school no longer has a set volunteer service requirement, but focuses on instilling in their students that serving and loving others is fulfilling.
“We tried to take a different approach finding more and more ways to make serving others enjoyable,” Madigan said.
Their plan worked. He said through the school’s sports teams, extracurricular groups and in classes, students readily volunteer to help others. He said that each year, students donate canned goods and carry them from campus, past St. Mary’s Basilica, to the local St. Vincent de Paul organization, then walk back to campus — about four miles total.
Madigan said students take the importance of serving others seriously, and often go on to become leaders in the community — firefighters, police officers and serving in the military.
In addition to other service organizations they work with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos USA, a group that cares for orphaned children throughout Latin America. “Really, the most important thing is the development of the whole person and their formation process,” Madigan said. “That they are an active person living a Catholic life means you aren’t living in your own bubble. It is something that you build into your daily life.”