Catholic schools: a legacy of sanctuary


This past week, schools across the Archdiocese of Baltimore have celebrated all of the wonderful things that make Catholic Schools the gold standard for highly academic and deeply spiritual education. It was an honor to observe the occasion with my colleagues, my students, and their families at St. Joan of Arc School in Aberdeen. We wore beautiful pins and celebrated with treats, events, and prayerful reflection. I enjoyed having parents visit my Enrichment classroom to learn about polar bear adaptations through an interactive game of dress-up, while Collin liked pajama day. The SJA spirit was in full swing and contagious.

Advancement Director Lauren Hayden and her student ambassadors
rolled out the red carpet for visitors at St. Joan of Arc’s Open House.

Catholic Schools Week is always a homecoming of sorts for those of us who have spent a part of our lives surrounded by God’s love in the classrooms where we learned and played. It’s a chance to pause and remember our experiences as young people, searching for answers to riddles, algebra problems, or metaphysical questions and being led to them by caring teachers and good friends in a place where God was welcomed; in a place where God welcomed us.

My brother, Greg, and I on our first day of St. Margaret School in Bel Air, 1993.

I got my start in Catholic Schools 30 years ago as a member of the “God’s Little People” preschool program at St. Michael the Archangel in Overlea. It was the same school my dad and many of my cousins had attended. In fact, most members of my enormous family attended Catholic schools at some point in their lives. My ancestors saw Catholic schools as a perennial garden where their values would reach subsequent generations. Those values were instilled in my dad and his siblings by my grandparents’ decision to send my dad and his siblings to St. Michael the Archangel, Seton High, St. Stephen’s Bradshaw, and Archbishop Curley.

My dad, Bob Chrest, on his First Communion Day, 1963.

My dad, Archbishop Curley High School, Class of 1974

It’s a tradition some of us are passing along to our next generation. I currently have five cousins at Archbishop Curley (two teachers and three students) and one cousin (whose brother attends St. Michael the Archangel in Overlea) attending Catholic High. Collin is, of course, at St. Joan of Arc, and my three little ones are right on his heels!

Collin dressed as St. Patrick for St. Joan of Arc’s All Saints’ Day Mass, 2016

I didn’t always appreciate the strict rules and unfashionable uniforms I wore at St. Margaret’s School in the 1990s, but when I look at the skills, talents, and depth of faith I’ve gained, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for my parents and teachers. Now that I’m standing in their shoes as a mom and Catholic school teacher, I recognize the motives for their passion, and every nail and beam and angle of the architecture they built to raise me up in the way that God imagined. I see the framework now and try to structure for my own children and students a sanctuary of learning where the Holy Spirit can enlighten and inspire them – and me.

“St. Joan of Arc School: Grounded in Faith, Focused on the Future” 

St. Joan of Arc School has become that place of sanctuary for me. I can see my faith represented in the crucifixes on every classroom wall, in the photograph of Pope Francis smiling above our stairwell, and in our gorgeous St. Joan of Arc mural.  I can hear my faith in the prayers said on the morning and afternoon announcements, at the beginning of class, during lunch, before a test. I can feel God’s presence as we celebrate Mass as a school on Thursdays. God is everywhere I go and in every face I encounter. Whether we are Catholic or not, we, the community of St. Joan of Arc School, are a like-minded people who believe in the power of love and all things good.

My kindergarten Enrichment students locate the Arctic as part of their unit on saving the Polar Bear 

Being a part of a Catholic school offers an unprecedented opportunity to gain both intellect and faith in a nurturing community that is safe, warm, and full of life. I consider my Catholic education to be one of the greatest gifts my parents have ever given me. I attribute my creativity, language arts abilities, problem solving and analysis skills, commitment to my community, respect for all people, reverence for life and all living things, and strong Catholic faith to the nine years I spent at St. Margaret School. These are aspects which are often overlooked in public education due to the pressures of testing, compliance to ever-changing standards, and discipline. As a public school high school student and teacher, I witnessed those struggles firsthand. As a Catholic school teacher, I have found myself able to set those concerns aside and focus on teaching engaging material, at a steady pace, using advanced technology, with Catholic values infused into every lesson. Every one of my students is encouraged to share their gifts with our class. Every one of my student is a gift to our class.

Members from the Class of 2023 work as teams to create art from recycled electronic junk

I have chosen to send my children to Catholic school because I’m carrying on the faith that has sustained my family for countless generations. Like them, I want my children to be challenged academically and nurtured spiritually. I want my children to experience God’s presence in the things they see and hear and in the people they meet throughout their school day. I want my sons and daughter to be seen as unique individuals with one shared identity: children of God. And like my parents did for me, I am willing to make sacrifices to provide for them a future full of possibilities beyond their imaginations, with God by their sides.  

I encourage parents who are considering sending their children to a parochial school to take the time to visit a Catholic school to witness for themselves the future of our faith and our world; young people growing in mind and spirit, by His most radiant light.

At St. Joan of Arc School in Aberdeen, visitors are always welcome. Please make an appointment with Lauren Hayden at We look forward to seeing you!

If you would like to share an uplifting story about your Catholic school experience, please do so in the comments below!   



Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.