By Veronica Szczygiel
I often hear my peers say, “I’m not religious. I’m spiritual.” One of the biggest criticisms of the Catholic Church is that it is an institutionalized religion with organizational hierarchy that, through its various positions of power, could compromise its core faith beliefs. Sure, human institutions are always faulty; power can corrupt some, but not all. However, often overlooked is the fact that without this organization, the church would not as effectively shape the individuals that make up its community. I believe the Church is first and foremost a place of faith; however, it is also a place for formation and opportunity.
Allow me to illustrate this point through my own individual formation in the Catholic Church. I attended a Catholic elementary school in Greenpoint, where, as a little fourth-grade student, I was granted utmost responsibility in becoming an altar server. I had to be prompt and professional; after all, the congregation could see my every move, so I had better bring forth the chalice on time. I also practiced public speaking when I transitioned from altar serving to the pulpit as a lector. Reading from the Bible at Masses erased any last shred of stage fright I harbored.
The Catholic Church began my teaching career. As a seventh grader clocking service hours for Confirmation, I became an assistant teacher to pre-k students in a CCD program. The joy that these hands-on lessons brought to the young children further inspired me to strive to become a teacher. All throughout high school, I taught CCD at SS. Cyril and Methodius parish; then St. Anthony-St. Alphonsus; and finally St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, all in Greenpoint. How fitting that I can utilize what I learned from these years of experience as a teacher at my current Catholic school, Marymount School of New York.
The Catholic Church gave me the gift of knowledge. I attended Catholic school from elementary to high school, where rigorous expectations and nurturing environments helped me make college a reality. After college, I returned to Catholic education for my master’s degree and now my doctoral degree, both at Fordham University. It must come as no surprise that I am specializing in educational equity in my doctoral program, for the Catholic Church also instilled in me the value of all life and the need for dignity, respect, and justice for all.
Lastly, the Catholic Church taught me workplace professionalism when I interned throughout college at America Magazine as proofreader and fact checker. It gave me the opportunity to hone my writing skills here at The Tablet, keeping alive my dream of one day publishing my novel. I can say with great confidence that without the Catholic Church and its institutions, I would not be the person I am today.
With World Youth Day approaching, I am grateful that the Church supports its youth in these myriad ways. And I am sure to pass on the values of the Church and to take advantage of its great opportunities when I have my own children some day.