About 10 years ago, I attended a Catholic educators conference where the keynote speaker was asked by an audience member why she remained Catholic. The question allowed the presenter to expound on the many reasons she had spent nearly 50 years of her life in service to the Church as a nun, teacher, theologian, author and speaker. She first posed a simple but thoughtful question in answer: “What else is there?” After letting that hang in the air a few moments, she went deeper. Weaving together a profound recollection of her experience of Catholicism, she spoke to the richness of its tradition, our practices, beliefs, morals, art, doctrine and parables.
Her story included firsthand examples of charity, social justice and models of holiness she encountered as a Catholic. I reflect back in wonder and awe at her perspective and the depth and beauty of this Faith in which I was raised. I don’t have anywhere near 50 years of experience under my belt. I have had the privilege, for the past 22 years, to work as a volunteer catechist, middle school religion teacher, Faith formation director and, most recently, as a parish school principal here in the Diocese of La Crosse. It has been a remarkable journey!
My formation began with family, specifically my father. Early on, my brothers and I were immersed in worship, prayer, rite and ritual. We were exposed to the richness of Catholic customs, architecture and history. Our religious imagination was even fueled through family pilgrimages. Academic formation brought me under the guidance of some truly great teachers. There were Dominican sisters and Carmelite priests leading my high school religion classes, with their unique charisms. I then encountered brilliant and inspirational diocesan priests, Jesuit and Holy Cross religious and a host of lay professors starting at the University of St. Thomas, later in graduate school at Notre Dame and most recently in the Diocese of La Crosse’s first Catholic cohort in Viterbo University’s Educational Leadership Program. My professional life in Catholic churches and schools has allowed incredible opportunities to grow as I shifted from academic pursuits toward servant leadership. The benefit of experiencing marriage and family with three children and a variety of life challenges has allowed me to deepen my Faith and to relate personally to the families and students I serve. In reflecting about why I am Catholic, I also can’t imagine being anything other. Where else could I live out so many diverse roles in such a meaningful vocation? Working in formation and education is a continual calling in my life. I don’t seem to be able to get away from it. The Spirit blows me in unique and varied directions, but it always is toward educating, guiding and leading others to an encounter with Christ.
CHRIS MAGEE, Principal of St. Joseph Catholic School in Prescott
Published December 2020 Catholic Life Issue