Many Catholics fondly remember the days when Fr. Everyone visited their little classroom and spoke about God or the Sacraments, or read a story about something churchy, while the kids sat on the familiar round carpet. For others, it was in the later years that they best remember the priest appearing out of nowhere during the most intense classroom discussions on the moral life and relevant social ills. It is a fond memory for most people, mainly because they had run into someone where they had least expected him to be.
It is the same experience that children have when seeing their teacher outside of the school. They know that their teachers don’t live at the school but still, it is exciting to see them at the grocery store acting like, well, people. In the past, the parish priest was exactly that, my or your parish priest, a person tied to a fixed location in our minds. And it was always a pleasure to run into him outside of Church. It was strange and memorable, because here was a person who I associate with the parish, who I see countless times at the altar, and yet here he is where he isn’t supposed to be.
It comes as no surprise that this experience happens less and less. There are, as a matter of fact, fewer priests to do such visiting, and there are fewer parishioners to be found within those catholic school walls. Now I am not saying that there are fewer Catholics at the schools, but there certainly are fewer parishioners, people who see their local Catholic Church as their home away from home and the center for much of their social activity. I would be so bold as to say that there are currently very few within our schools that actually recognize the parish priest at all.
So it has me wondering, are school visits the best use of a priest’s time and active ministry? And if he is not visiting his parishioners what is the point of his visit? Yes, I know, this might be the only time that a child gets to encounter a priest. But that is a sad thought; a defeatist thought. It seems to me something similar to saying ‘the grocery store might be the only place a child might meet a teacher.’
Shouldn’t we focus on getting the kids back in school? Shouldn’t we focus on getting our families back in the Churches? If we can do that, then a chance visit from Father Everyone might actually have a great impact. Children might talk about the experience and share it with enthusiasm at the dinner table. ‘Mom! Dad! I saw our priest at school today!’