by Marie Elena Giossi
“Three cheers for Good Shepherd School. We like the teachers. We like the rules. We’re the best with nothing to fear. We love learning through the year. Blue and gold, our colors, so true. When you see them, you’ll get the clue. GS is the best in the land. We’re true to you.”
I can still see Mrs. Johanna Elias, my first-grade teacher, belting out the lyrics of my elementary school song with exaggerated arm motions, over-the-top enthusiasm but also a genuine smile on her face.
As Catholic Schools Week approaches, I often think back to my grade school days at Good Shepherd School in Marine Park – my second home for nine years. I recall my classmates, one of whom was the first person to visit me after the birth of my son last year. I remember each teacher and the lessons they imparted – written and unwritten. My mental journey takes me down hallways and into classrooms where I learned the times tables, literary devices and historical dates. But it was within those walls that I learned something that is much more valuable to me as a young Catholic adult – the tenets, morals and values of my faith.
My memories would be very different if my parents’ original educational plans for me had come to fruition. I was only supposed to attend kindergarten at Good Shepherd. The half-day morning session happened to fit my family’s schedule. Then I was headed to my local public school. Catholic school was expensive even back in the early ’80s, and my parents knew they couldn’t afford eight more years.
My kindergarten teacher, Sister Antoinette DeAveiro, O.P., interceded and changed my fate. During the school year, she made a point of visiting every student’s home to learn more about the child in the context of his or her family structure and living environment.
Having a nun come to my house was not a big deal; it was huge. My grandmother, with whom we lived, set the table. My mom made coffee, boiled water for tea and put out the nice platters with bakery cookies. No Stella D’oro for this guest.
I don’t recall the conversation that day as much as I remember trying to be on my best behavior as I sat at the kitchen table with Sister Antoinette, my mother and grandmother.
As an adult, I found out about my parents’ plan to send me to public school and learned that Sister Antoinette asked my family to keep me at Good Shepherd when she came to our home that day. I was quiet and introverted. She feared that I would get lost in the public school system, just another kid filling a seat. She assured my mother and grandmother that wouldn’t happen at Good Shepherd. Her visit was proof of that. She felt I would flourish at Good Shepherd if given the chance.
Family finances didn’t change, but perspective did. With my grandmother’s help, my parents made the commitment to my Catholic education and religious formation – a gift that continues to shape who I am and how I live. [hr]
Marie Elena Giossi is a full-time member of The Tablet’s editorial staff.