What is your superpower? My 9-year son likes to ask me which superhero power I would choose if I had a choice. I tend to select flight because I could travel all over without paying airfare.

But I also am reminded that we use that term in our office to refer to Catholic school educators — principals and teachers who are dedicated to serving in Catholic schools. I am a Catholic school educator; what is your superpower?

The start of a school year always brings great excitement and optimism. One of the gifts of being in education is that each year brings a “newness” that compels reflection and thought on past experiences and new ways of approaching the challenges ahead. 

In “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis writes, “With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew” (No. 3). This time of preparation for teachers and principals holds great promise and potential for the year.

Having attended Catholic schools throughout my life, and having worked in them over the past 20 years, I am especially cognizant and appreciative for the great value they provide to students and families. I remember well my Catholic school education back in New York where I grew up. 

My two brothers, two sisters and I all graduated from the same Catholic elementary school, St. Patrick, which was our home parish. Sister Kathleen Fitzgerald, a Sister of Charity, taught all of us at some point during our time there and remains at the school teaching today. 

When my father passed away 20 years ago at age 58, and my mom followed seven years later at age 62, Sister Kathleen was a supportive presence to all of us as we mourned the loss. I have never forgotten her kindness and compassion, both when I was a student at the school, and as an adult.

If you ask adults about their favorite teacher in school when they were kids their faces usually light up with joy. What is telling is that the stories they tell about that teacher rarely center on curriculum content or the pedagogy they used in the classroom. 

Favorite teachers are identified as such because they make students feel valued and cared for in the classroom. They understand when students need additional support and can sense when students are having a bad day and need a supportive word. 

One aspect of Catholic schools that brings me joy is seeing principals and teachers greet students by name, even those who might not be in their classroom, as they walk through the campus. This connection to human relationships is an intangible reason why our Catholic schools experience such great success.

That ability to brighten students’ days and convey the Catholic faith and the love of Jesus to them is definitely a superpower in my book. As we begin this school year, be sure to thank the Catholic school teachers who sacrifice and struggle to make a profound impact on the lives of the students. They have the future of the Church in their classrooms, and I feel very hopeful.

Dr. Kevin Baxter is the senior director and superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

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