Marian High School has been added to a prestigious list in Catholic education, but its principal says the announcement holds importance mostly for the journey that led to the recognition and the results seen in students’ lives.
The Cardinal Newman Society, whose mission “to promote and defend faithful Catholic education” includes the placement of elementary and secondary schools on its national Catholic Education Honor Roll, reported in April that it had approved Marian as the 51st institution on the roster.
“This is a select group,” said Dr. Denise Donohue, coordinator of the honor roll, in a news release. She noted that the Mishawaka school’s application had demonstrated success “in meeting the key principles that guide Catholic education.”
One other school in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, is currently on the honor roll, which is posted at the Cardinal Newman Society website. The society names schools to the list on a rolling basis and grants the status for a five-year period.
Marian principal Mark Kirzeder called the recognition “a blessing” that capped the self-reflective process of completing the application over a one-year period. He said it also reflects the school’s much longer path of continuous improvement in living out its Catholic identity and vision in everyday life.
“Our focus was an invitation to analyze all of our programs and policies and invite people to think about how we’re doing these things in light of our Catholic faith,” said Kirzeder. School leaders proactively pursued the application as “a way for us to ensure we’re being faithful to our mission.”
The process ultimately reflected the fruits of various approaches embraced over time by administrators, teachers and others, including the student body, now numbering about 640, he said.
“You don’t build a culture overnight,” Kirzeder explained. “It takes a long, concerted effort.”
Many dimensions comprise that culture-building endeavor, including a sense of identity and mission focused on the fullness and clarity of Catholicism. “We don’t want to be a great private school that also teaches religion,” the principal said. “Religion is integrated within our approach in every subject.”
Judges of the application wanted to see the presence of faith spanning codes of conduct, student life, course descriptions and more.
Kirzeder remarked that, when hiring members of the approximately 50-member faculty, he tells a candidate, “I’m looking for a minister of the faith who also happens to teach calculus.”
Faith formation and professional development bring the teachers into closer collaboration, said Kirzeder. He cited faculty participation in programs such as the University of Notre Dame’s Science & Religion Initiative, which helped provide “a common vocabulary” so students would see reinforcement between the reasoning of the Church and scientists, between culture and faith.
The school’s daily prayer life is modeled after the Liturgy of the Hours, starting in the morning. Spiritual practice and reflection have an annual thematic focus, this year’s being the gifts of the Holy Spirit. During the Easter season, students have been singing the Regina Caeli (“Queen of Heaven”) prayer in honor of Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Recitation of the Angelus and a blessing precede lunch.
“It’s a chance for our kids to interact with Catholic culture, to learn some of our prayers, history and traditions,” Kirzeder said. “They learn what each of the [Holy Spirit’s] gifts mean and how we can use them.”
During their four years of study, young people can experience “constant conversion” through Masses and retreats and the other practices. Together, they point toward a life of discipleship and virtue, Kirzeder said.
This culture connects with an annual schoolwide day of service and many other contributions to the community outside school walls.
“Our kids serve over 50 agencies each year, such as South Bend’s Center for the Homeless and Our Lady of Road (a drop-in site offering food and renewal for the poor), according to Kirzeder. He emphasized these activities do not spring from a metrics-based service requirement at the school. “They’re tied to reflection on Gospel values and integration into Catholic mission — why we are serving. We want it to be much more than checking off the hours.”
For all these reasons, Marian High School will proudly publicize its new Catholic Education Honor Roll placement but expects students will experience it through school spirit and as a lifetime influence, “more than the award itself,” Kirzeder said.
“Because we’re being faithful to our mission, the Lord blesses us in countless ways with regard to student achievement and vocations that come out of the school,” he said. The benefit for students “affects their relationships with peers, their families, how they interact with the world, how they treat one another, how they serve one another — all wrapped up in the Gospel values that are exemplified in the Honor Roll status.”
The journey for the students continues after the recognition has been bestowed, Kirzeder pointed out. And the same future focus is true for the whole school, he added, while expressing gratitude for the application process and the school leaders’ desire to validate their path. “This is a great road map for us.”
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