Funny socks, volleyball games and dressing up like a firefighter. What do they all have in common? These are just some of the ways students across West Virginia will transform a cold, otherwise ordinary week of school into a celebration.
The National Catholic Educational Association has set aside Sunday, Jan. 27, through Saturday, Feb. 2, as Catholic Schools Week. While the week can mean something different for schools across the country, one thing that will unite them all is taking time out to focus on the value a Catholic education provides for young people everywhere.
“It’s a very exciting time in our schools, and we celebrate all the different parts of our schools — from the school itself to the church to the community,” said Jennifer Hornyak, associate superintendent of accreditation and technology for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s Department of Catholic Schools. “It’s a big celebration of Catholic education.”
In the state of West Virginia, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston plays a large role in educating the state’s children.
“We have about 5,000 students, and we’re the eighth largest West Virginia school system, so we do have a large role to play,” said Hornyak.
That role hasn’t gone unnoticed. In an official proclamation by Gov. Jim Justice, West Virginia Catholic Schools were recognized for academic excellence in the form of a “broad, value-based education.”
“I congratulate the Catholic schools, students, parents and teachers across the Mountain State for their ongoing contributions to education and for the key role they play in promoting and ensuring a brighter and stronger future for West Virginia and the nation,” Governor Justice stated.
In Wheeling, Weirton and beyond, students at every grade level will celebrate their educational experience in a variety of ways.
“We’ve been hearing about academic fairs and science bowls to career days where the students will come in dressed up as what they’d like to be when they grow up,” Hornyak said. “We have bring-a-friend day where students can bring a friend who is not in Catholic school to see what it’s like. Some schools will have volleyball games between staff and students. We have vocational talks, not only about religious vocations, but all the vocations.”
Each day of the week will honor a different part of the school community, from students and teachers to volunteers and those in the religious life. In keeping with the diocese overarching call for schools to “Keep Jesus at the Core of Everything,” Hornyak said multiple prayer environments and service opportunities also will be offered.
“We have different prayer environments including a living rosary,” she said. “Some of the service projects I’m seeing are volunteering at soup kitchens, visiting nursing homes, spending time writing thank you cards to people that have either donated or volunteered in the school community. We also have a lot of schools collecting items for different organizations like a children’s hospital or maybe a food pantry.”
As many Catholic school alums may remember, many of these volunteer efforts are combined with a spirit of fun that makes the week a treasured tradition.
“A lot of times with Catholic Schools Week, we pair those with fun activities for the students with something meaningful. They’ll wear crazy socks but then bring in a pair of socks to donate to someone in need,” Hornyak said.
At many of the schools, the celebration will officially kick off Sunday, Jan. 27, with a Mass where current and prospective families can learn more about the opportunity that a Catholic education provides.
“We have a special place not only to focus on academic excellence but our Catholic identity, too,” Hornyak said. “We love for people to come visit and see what we’re all about, so you can always call your local school and come visit. We’re doing great things in our schools, and we’re very proud of our students and our faculty and staff, and we want people to come and see that.”
To find out more about Catholic schools in Wheeling and the rest of the state, visit WVcatholicschools.org.
• Cassie Bendel was born in Wheeling and raised in Bellaire. A graduate of St. Vincent College, she began her writing career as a reporter with The Times Leader and the Steubenville Herald-Star before writing content for SiriusXM Satellite Radio and a national faith-based consulting company. After more than a decade in Pennsylvania, she recently moved back to the Ohio Valley with her husband and two sons.
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