It’s common to hear about “Back to School Savings,” but there’s a deeper savings value out there.

Students once again enliven St. Peter Indian Mission School Aug. 6 in Bapchule. Some 15,000 young learners returned to class across the diocese that week. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

It’s an offer available to every Catholic home, especially those that partner with Catholic school campuses. Families who choose to send their child to a Catholic school have extra partners in their quest to save their child’s soul for eternal life.

That especially rang true as the 2018-19 academic year got underway. The weeks leading up to it marked the time that every principal in the Diocese of Phoenix went on a retreat together to grow as a disciple in the Lord’s vineyard. By the time teachers were contractually obligated to return in August, all 110 teachers who were new hires across the diocese were on the same retreat.

Fr. John Parks, vicar for evangelization, hopes both groups returned to school inspired to lead a similar retreat for staff, parents, students or some combination thereof. He challenged campus chaplains to lead “The Crux,” a five-part Bible study for at least 10 percent of their staff before school lets out next May.

“It’s called ‘The Crux’ because it’s coming to a decision point about who Jesus is in your life,” Fr. Parks explained. “If we want all of our schools be to a place of having an encounter with the living Jesus Christ, then it’s important that we the teachers have a common experience [with Him].”

He intends to hold the retreats each summer until Jesus’ return because they orient participants to the reason Catholic schools exist. As an apostolate of the Church, Catholic schools exist for the salvation of souls, Fr. Parks said.

“I’m excited to see the fruit and what will be born of it,” Fr. Parks said.

He personally led 10 teachers through the Bible study during his final year as chaplain of Notre Dame Preparatory in Scottsdale and led girl and boy Bible studies for interested students. Participants emerged more on fire for the faith.

Harry Plummer, superintendent for the Diocese of Phoenix, reminds new teachers of the reason for Catholic schools. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

“Everything a Catholic school does, in curricular and extracurricular programs, clubs, outreaches, is essentially connected to the effectiveness of its creation of a culture of encounter with our Lord Jesus,” Harry Plummer, superintendent of schools told his new teachers.

Ryan Peters, a new third grade teacher at St. Theresa, said the retreat helped re-center everyone around Christ “and helped make Christ the focus that we’re going to be bringing into the classroom.”

“It set an unbelievable tone, possibly the best tone the diocese could have started the school year off on,” said Cynthia Scheller, principal at St. Thomas Aquinas in Avondale, who went on the retreat with principals and then again as a small group leader for the new teachers. She called its focus on personal faith journeys “a strong mission” for principals to accomplish and model.

Student leaders often start the school year off on similar grounds. Extraordinary ministers of holy Communion at Xavier College Preparatory always begin their year with a retreat. Leaders of a group system at Notre Dame Preparatory went on a “house” retreat to pray for and plan the year too.

Sixth-graders at Loyola Academy always begin with a retreat, too. It begins to form a community among them through icebreakers, leadership activities and reading about St. Ignatius.

“They’re coming from a wide variety of schools, almost all are new to Catholic school, and they’re signing up for a seven-year journey with long days and long years,” explained Kendra Krause, director. The boys transition to Brophy College Preparatory together after eighth-grade.

“They pray together for the first time. They also outline how they want to treat each other — what they want to be able to expect from each other and their teachers,” Krause said.

Payton Cadien, the new third-grade teacher at Annunciation Catholic School in Cave Creek, entered the Catholic school system so she could encourage students to express the fullness of who they are. She called it an injustice to prevent that in the public system. Having attended both St. Louis the King in Glendale and Xavier College Preparatory, she is already familiar with the local Catholic school scene.

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For Jeanette Rivas, this school year marks a decade of teaching. It was her fourth-grade niece who encouraged her to make this her first year doing so at a Catholic school — at St. John Vianney Preschool in Goodyear.

“Just to see how faithful they are at such a little age and how excited they are,” Rivas reflected.

Plummer, diocesan superintendent, gently presented the new teachers with his “keys to sanity and sanctity” during part of the retreat. He reminded them to continue: cultivating their own faith and sacramental life to best make God’s love accessible to students; reaching out in charity and seeing students as “agents of God’s active presence in their lives”; and cultivating gratitude, the greatest of moral virtues.

“You have no idea how much you are influencing people,” Plummer said.