Dressed in his khaki shorts and white polo shirt, 14-year-old Jayden Young, along with his classmates, recently attended a weekly mass at Bishop Chatard High School.
Although he said it was early in the morning and the grass was ‘freezing’, he and the other students who chose to participate knelt and prayed on the school’s soccer field. .
Many Black Catholic students are Protestant Christians, and with different religious beliefs than the school they attend, many wonder what impact attending a Catholic school might have on these students.
Young grew up as a Baptist, but said he preferred the Catholic school.
“I think it’s a better environment,” he said.
Before dating Bishop Chatard, Young attended Saint Matthew’s Catholic School. With smaller class sizes and a more intimate school setting, Young believes Catholic schools are more focused on student academic success than traditional public schools, and his father, Brandon Moore, agrees.
Moore said he went to public school in Louisville, but when he started coaching basketball for a private Catholic school, he saw a difference in the environment the first day.
“I could immediately tell the difference between public school and private school,” he said. “As he gets older he will definitely see the benefits of going here.”
Bishop Chatard President Bill Sahm said the school “provides the highest quality educational experience” for its students, but Bishop Chatard also accepts a wide range of learners and works with them to ensure that succeed in school.
“They can trust us to know, appreciate and love them through the sometimes most difficult four years of a child’s upbringing,” Sahm said.
The Catholic school makes sure to explain what it will be like for non-Catholic students. From the daily prayers before each class to the weekly Thursday Mass, the administration makes sure to explain every detail of the school day to parents and students.
Attendance at Mass is mandatory, but attendance is optional, Sahm explained.
“Our ultimate goal is to help them better understand who they are and what God’s plan is for them,” he said. “We hope we help them develop a deeper relationship with him.”
One aspect mentioned by students – past and present – was the compulsory theology course.
Catholic School alumnus Michael Dixon Jr., 23, spent his freshman year at Bishop Chatard. He would then transfer to Warren Central High School for his sophomore year and complete his final two years of high school at Scecina Memorial High School – a Catholic school on the east side of Indianapolis.
“At the Catholic school, they take religion seriously,” he said. “It confused me but intrigued me in a way. It will definitely improve your perspective.
Dixon, a non-denominational Christian, said his theology course broadened his worldview and changed his view of religion.
Tristen Morris, a junior at Bishop Chatard, had some hesitation during his theology course.
“As a non-Catholic student attending a Catholic school, I can definitely say she has her ups and downs,” she said. “Sometimes I feel pressure in class when we talk about whether or not we believe in God or whether heaven and hell are real. I never know what to answer.”
Sahm said the mandatory class is just “so people understand who Jesus Christ is.”
Morris’ mother, Telisha Morris, said religion had nothing to do with why she sent her daughter to Bishop Chatard, and everything to do with the opportunities and resources her daughter could gain .
Morris hopes her daughter will be scouted by college volleyball scouts in the future.
“Experience can either lift you up or bring you down,” Dixon said after recalling a time when a former Scecina classmate was expelled for not shaving his facial hair. “It can make you question your beliefs. You must stand firm in your beliefs.
Parents like Moore are willing to pay tuition because they see it as an investment in their child’s future. He advises other parents to consider this option.
“Every school has its flaws, whether public or private,” Moore said. “I think parents should try private schools.”
Contact religious journalist Abiana Herron at 317-924-5243. Follow her on Twitter @Abri_onyai. Herron is a member of the Report for America body and writes about the role of black churches in the community.