More than 1,000 students, teachers and parents filled a muddy lawn at the State Capitol Jan. 28. Their purpose and energy were far more solid.
They came from across Arizona and some from the Diocese of Gallup, N.M. to celebrate National Appreciation Day for Catholic Schools and the midway point of Catholic Schools Week. The lunchtime rally marked the second of a two-part celebration that brings students together in prayer and gratitude for a faith-filled education and tuition tax credits that help keep many Arizona Catholic schools open.
Some 49 percent of students who applied for need-based scholarships through Catholic Education Arizona come from families making less than $40,000 per year. Benjamin Cortez, a sophomore at Seton Catholic Preparatory in Chandler, said he recognizes more and more each year the financial strain a family faces in order to afford a Catholic education for its children. Cortez, a graduate of Queen of Peace in Mesa, said teachers modeled Christ-like behavior and invited fellow students to be an example for others.
Catalina Alvarado, an eighth-grader at Ss. Peter and Paul School in Tucson and a life-long Catholic school student, said she has gained life skills, Catholic values and a strong relationship with God plus a commitment to serve others.
Her bishop, Gerald F. Kicanas, expressed confidence that the students will make great contributions to Arizona using words like “super,” “gigante” and “tremendo” to do so. All four bishops who serve Roman Catholics throughout Arizona briefly addressed the crowd.
“We are so privileged that we don’t have to put Jesus outside the school,” Bishop James S. Wall of the Diocese of Gallup, NM said.
Standing up for truth
The truths of the Church are weaved throughout the curriculum and throughout the day. Students from St. Michael Indian School in St. Michaels, AZ also showed how their school preserves local culture via a Navajo flute performance from the student band.
Young women from Seton and St. Mary’s High School led the crowd in a series of cheers to thank legislators for maintaining the tuition tax credit since 1997.
All four bishops had breakfast with state lawmakers that morning and a private meeting with Gov. Doug Ducey. Feedback was extremely positive.
“These meetings are very helpful in that they help build relationships between the bishops and important elected officials as we work together to improve the common good from a policy position,” said Ron Johnson. He serves as executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, which acts as the legislative arm for Arizona’s bishops.
“Gov. Ducey’s presence at the Catholic Schools Rally was particularly inspiring and contributed to what may have been the best rally yet,” Johnson said.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted invited students to tour the state Senate and House of Representatives building to thank them for their service. He said it would give insight into how state-level decisions impact families, especially those living their faith.
“It takes a lot of sacrifice and effort and courage to stand up for truth,” the bishop said.
The governor himself briefly addressed students on the Capitol lawn at lunchtime. He highlighted the state’s commitment to allow parents to choose the school that best fits their child’s and family’s needs. He also thanked students for doing their job.
“I want to challenge you to continue to excel not only at what you’re doing, what you’re learning, what you’re accomplishing, but the example you set for kids across the country,” the governor said.