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‘Bad’ Catholic school experience helped student become better man

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Layout 1By all rights, I didn’t deserve a Catholic education.

Catholic education is a privilege and it requires commitment from school, parents and student to succeed. My parents and the school of my youth did their part, but it took years until I began to do mine.

I’m a Catholic school graduate, if eighth grade graduation counts anyway. I attended St. Antoninus Catholic School in Green Township on Cincinnati’s west side and a small army of teachers can attest that I was no star student.

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I remember in first grade being told that my handwriting needed work. It did. The teacher was nice enough about it too. But rather than accept her guidance, I rambled about it being “good enough” since obviously she could tell what it said. What a rebel, I thought.

Mrs. Cunningham taught me anyway.

In third grade I was bullied a good bit. I didn’t fit in well and rather than try to become a more social person, I became a tattletale more obsessed with telling the teacher who picked on me than doing my homework.  Miss Ruther had to have been tired of the whining, but she still made me feel like someone cared for me every time.

And she taught me anyway.

In fourth grade I’d fake sick as often as I could to avoid mean old Miss Cassidy’s English class. She had high standards and didn’t take any backtalk or laziness from her students. What I once thought was mean, I now see as challenging. I wouldn’t be a writer today if it weren’t for the fact that despite all my nonsense, Miss Cassidy taught me.

In eighth grade another English teacher, Mrs. Gallagher, told me I’d never make it in high school or college. That seemed cruel at the time, but she meant if I didn’t start taking homework seriously, I would struggle.

She was right. I performed so poorly at Elder my freshman year that it marked the end of my Catholic school career and I finished high school at Western Hills.

As a boy, I’d have told you my Catholic school experience wasn’t very pleasant. As a man with a career, a wife and two beautiful sons, I can tell you in many ways I hope my sons are fortunate enough to have the same caliber of teachers that I had.

They challenged me. They talked about my potential, but it wasn’t empty words. When I didn’t live up to it, they called me on it. They made me strive for excellence.

I didn’t appreciate it until my academic career was over, but if I think back, whenever a teacher seemed “mean” to my elementary school mind, they were usually just trying to help me succeed.

Our Catholic school teachers have a sometimes thankless job. Students often don’t appreciate the tough love and in today’s day and age, some parents don’t seem to appreciate it either. But day in and day out they come to work and give their all to the future of our church in the form of Catholic school students.

To all the teachers I didn’t appreciate at the time, and to all the teachers currently forming young boys and girls in a Catholic school environment, thank you.

And sorry I was such a pain.

This column first appeared in the February 2016 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph. Future installments will appear exclusively at TheCatholicTelegraph.com.

Welcome to Millennial Catholic, an online exclusive column for TheCatholicTelegraph.com. In this monthly piece, CT New Media Editor John Stegeman will write about the Catholic experience from the perspective of the oft-discussed “millennial” generation. John, his wife Kelli, and their two sons are members of St. Martin of Tours parish in Cheviot.

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