Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 20, 2006
Homeschoolers nurture their children's faith
Homeschooling by faithful Catholics surges in popularity
"We do what we can with the time and gifts God has given us."
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
With six young daughters, Mariette Ulrich was finding her Scott, Sask., home rather crowded. She asked her husband Dan - again - if they could build an addition.
Her prayers were answered - sort of. She became pregnant again.
Now with seven girls in tow, the Ulriches have committed their lives to raising their family in a house built on a faithful foundation, with a glowing furnace and doors and windows open to humanity.
"When I was young, I had posters of Starsky and Hutch on my walls," Ulrich told about 100 people who attended the 10th annual Western Canadian Catholic Homeschool conference March 9-11 at Providence Centre.
Pope John Paul II pinup
"At our house, the most popular pin-up boy is Pope John Paul II."
One of several conference speakers - including Archbishop Thomas Collins and Father Paul Moret - Ulrich discussed Keeping Our Children Catholic, as a 20-step process of effective parenting akin to building a house. She says a way to ensure children will practise their faith as they grow and leave home is to nurture them with love and faith from the beginning.
"When it comes to the basics of faith, our kids don't need teddy bears," said Ulrich, 40. "They need bricks."
Bricks of faith
Her children's ages range from 17 years to 21 months. The Ulriches have been homeschooling for the past 11 years.
"This is not about what great parents Dan and I are. It's about what kind of parents we desire to be."
Baby boomers came along at a time when Catholic educators shifted from a "fire and brimstone" lot to a more soft-spoken bunch clad in bell-bottom jeans. And now they are the parents who face an ongoing challenge, Ulrich said. While the responsibility to properly teach children is unchanged, what is more difficult is to model faith for the family.
"The phrase 'Keep the faith' has almost become clich‚," she said. "It means different things to different people. At one end of the spectrum, there are people who check the box on the census form and go to church at Christmas and Easter. But that's about it.
"At the other end, there are some who are into every imaginable devotion, but they can still be unpleasant - especially when they judge others who do not measure up to their brand of religion."
So where do modern Catholic homeschoolers fit in?
"First, we do not start by comparing ourselves to others," she said. "We look only to Christ as the measure of holiness and to what Pope Benedict calls 'true humanism.'"
Homeschooling parents are often accused of sheltering their children, Ulrich said. To a degree it is true, she said, but they are preparing their children in a special way to take on the world for Christ.
"Our job is building up the universal Church by first building the (domestic) Church. We are called primarily to give our children a desire for a union with God."
The four cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude) comprise the home's foundation, Ulrich said. From there come the basement, floor joists and exterior walls that show courage and a willingness for Christ in the home.
"Nurturing our children's faith is to live it ourselves and to love them into loving God. This is the mortar that holds the bricks together," she said. "But parents are sinners and sometimes the mortar cracks. But if the children have those bricks, the foundation can be repaired and rebuilt."
Open doors = open hearts
Open doors are open hearts, Ulrich said. A balanced room design is available for a family's different needs. Attentive manual labour makes for a sturdy structure.
"Allow (stress) to dominate your life and you get chaos," Ulrich said. "Put God first and somehow everything falls into place. Scripture promises it."
Self-denial is essential for holiness, she said.
Conference volunteer Wendy Novakowski believes it is important that families have the choice of Catholic homeschooling.
"Some of us don't feel that a traditional school is the best place for our children," said Novakowski, a mother of six children.
Attendance at the event has varied over the years because more homeschooling conferences are occurring. Catholic homeschooling is becoming more popular, she said.
"For those who come, they certainly appreciate what is provided. Archbishop Collins has given us amazing support. We adore his wisdom."
Ulrich said parents need to respect a child's free will. Parents can influence a child's choice for Christ, but they cannot make it for them.
She told the audience that even the best Catholic parents do not always raise little saints.
"We do what we can with the time and gifts God has given us. We entrust our children to his love and mercy. And then we let them go."