Ignatian Reflection

Grad at Grad: Pathway to Excellence

By Fr. Michael Caruso, SJ

I recently attended an alumni reunion at one of my former high school assignments. I was talking to an alumnus and learned that he was living and working in Kansas City, my hometown. As we chatted, I asked about his parish and where he went to Mass. After a pregnant pause, he responded that he didn’t attend Mass mainly out of laziness. I wanted to teasingly ask, “So, when did you start hating Jesus?” Instead, I suggested that he might want to rediscover his faith after his parents invested in a Catholic education — and that was the most important goal we had for him at the school.

What is excellence at St. Louis University High, or any other Catholic school? In the SLUH viewbook shared with prospective families, the first page headline reads: “BECOME part of a 200+ Year Tradition of Excellence.” Excellence is most evident in the lives of our alumni, yet these four years of formation hopefully cultivate a mature life of active faith, set a moral compass, hone critical thinking skills and build a body of knowledge.

On the bottom of that first page, one reads about the Graduate at Graduation and its five pillars.
Our graduates should be:

  • Intellectually Competent 
  • Open to Growth
  • Religious
  • Loving
  • Committed to Justice

These would compose the formula for excellence, yet not all are easily measurable. Intellectually Competent is the easiest to determine by looking at the GPA and diploma. Service projects invite students to develop a Commitment to Justice, yet if it is simply checking a box, that seed did not take a deep root. Being Open to Growth is a lifetime pursuit. It means listening to others with respect and attention, without a superior attitude. Our truculent culture makes this a serious challenge.

How does one measure to be Loving? A simple test for students is how they speak to their parents. Is their attitude sullen, snarky or self-absorbed? When a student begins speaking in a friendly manner and responds to questions in complete sentences instead of crabby one-word responses, glimmers of maturity and excellence are evident.

Being Religious is perhaps the most important quality for a Catholic school in the Jesuit tradition.

Applicants are interviewed about this dimension of their lives so one can presume that students are engaged in their spirituality, but being religious also means being part of a worshiping community, putting your beliefs into action. It has been said that Catholic high schools “want to get kids into Harvard, but it is more important to get them into Heaven.” That is definitely a goal we should all embrace.

A student who graduates without a deepened relationship with Christ has not been well-served or did not take full advantage of the SLUH mission. While this can be disconcerting, it is reassuring to remember that graduation provides a doorway to a young man’s future — and the graduates, like all of us, are God’s cherished projects in progress.

Fr. Caruso joined the SLUH staff in July 2022. Previously, he served as a tenured Associate Professor in the Saint Louis University Educational Leadership Program; completed a 10-year tenure as President of Saint Ignatius College Preparatory School in Chicago; and was a tenured faculty member in Catholic Educational Leadership at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

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