Zabinia Arvizu, a junior at Notre Dame Preparatory in Scottsdale, shares the blessings she’s received from attending a Catholic school at the Catholic Schools Rally outside the Arizona Capitol Jan. 30. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

If a word could sum up a week, most notably its central day, it would be “joy.”

The crowd made up of students, teachers, parents, donors and faculty from throughout the state who filled the Arizona Capitol lawn for a rally Jan. 30 was full of joy for Catholic schools. Wednesday marked National Appreciation Day for Catholic Schools and the midpoint of Catholic Schools Week, observed Jan. 27-Feb. 2 this year.

The days of celebration honor the many facets that make Catholic school campuses whole and unique. Students were happy to see fellow students also interested in growing in their faith throughout the school day. Two shared their story publicly.

David Amerson, a senior at San Miguel High School in Tucson, switched to the Catholic system in middle school and by sophomore year, rose enough to the academic challenge he knew awaited him by joining the Honor Society. He has since successfully juggled other leadership and campus activities.

Zabinia Arvizu, a junior at Notre Dame Preparatory in Scottsdale and the oldest of five in a single-income family, treasures her chance to stay in Catholic schools since kindergarten.

“We are given the opportunity to know Christ and grow closer to Him through the activities on campus,” Arvizu said, noting more frequent opportunities for Christ’s mercy through Confession.

Scholarships help school choice become real for her family. Arizona legislators have passed more than 20 positive school choice laws in the last 15 years, said Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference. He is at the capitol almost daily advocating on the Church’s behalf.

“We made a lot of gains in this state and it’s our goal to preserve them and remain the number one state in the country in terms of school choice,” Johnson said.

Bringing students to the annual rally helps elected officials see the fruit of the tuition tax credit, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts and “the wonderful things our schools are doing across the state,” Johnson added. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted called the rally a chance to show gratitude for Catholic education in the public square.

Arizona House of Representatives Speaker pro tempore T.J. Shope, who represents Coolidge, reminded students to share how they like going to their school. Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, who represents Prescott, openly encouraged the crowd to connect with legislators via email regarding concerns and thoughts.

Diocese of Phoenix Superintendent of Schools Harry Plummer joins his counterpart in the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, Fr. Isaac Ogba after the Catholic Schools Mass at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral Jan. 30. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

Catholic school teachers are more than academic and pedagogy experts and behavioral role models, said Harry Plummer, Phoenix’s superintendent. They’re witnesses to Christ’s love in an environment “dedicated to referencing all learning to the Good News of the Gospel, helps equip students to go out into the world firm in faith, joyful in hope and active in charity,” Plummer said “And this, my brothers and sisters, is the hundred-fold blessing of Catholic school education and powerfully demonstrates the truth that, while there are many alternatives to Catholic schools, there are no substitutes.”

Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson preached the homily for the Catholic Schools Mass at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral Jan. 30. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

Tucson’s bishop, Edward Weisenburger, knows that well. He spent only a memorable second grade in Catholic school. It’s easy to be like the seed that falls on hard ground or among thorns, he said in a homily during a statewide Mass at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral. The day’s Gospel shared the parable of the sower, the only one Jesus interprets, the bishop said.

He offered insight that God calls His children to be both the seed and the sower. As sowers, it’s important to scatter seeds in the same manner, even if some environments are not the most fertile ground. As the seed, each Catholic school “helps us to be that receptive soil that allows God’s word, His seeds of life to come alive in us, fashioning us into the saints we’re called to be,” the bishop said, “even as St. Paul says, to be sowers of seed, bringing saints alive in others.”

Considering the entire school day — getting dressed, classes, teachers, faith, activities — what are some things you like best about being at a Catholic school?

“I really love serving our families and the population that we serve. I feel like we’re serving St. Vincent de Paul [the person]. His passion was service to persons who were poor and of course, I was taught by the Daughters of Charity. Now I work for them and with them. It’s walking through the courtyard and saying hello to everyone: grandparents, parents, students, ‘Hi, Good morning, Buenos días …,’ so I’m not just a person in a room writing grants. It’s important to know who I’m doing it for.”

— Rose DeFer
Development director and drama club director, St. Vincent de Paul
Faculty member for 25 years, alumna

“I felt it was a more welcoming environment and I can learn more about my Catholic faith and to get to know more people. … I feel like it’s a better chance to get to know other students, especially today [at the rally] to know there are more people like you who want to know more about God.”

— Benny Ojeda
Eighth-grader, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glendale
Catholic school student since sixth grade

“My dad knows that he can trust them. They have a very, very good curriculum and they’re altogether better. I like that there’s always clubs to join and the teachers are understanding and it’s very easy to pick your outfit every day.”

— Nicole Kupferer
Eighth-grader, St. Mary-Basha in Chandler
Catholic school student since kindergarten

“Everyone is more caring and connected because of the Catholic teaching. Everyone knows how to treat each other. It’s just a lot more welcoming. A lot of what I learn, it’s stuff that applied to modern issues. [For the rally], seeing all the schools. It’s refreshing and makes me realize how much Catholic schools help the student and me, especially, and how much of a blessing it is.”

— Andrew Fahrendorf
Junior, St. Mary’s High School
Catholic school student since kindergarten