BRIMMING WITH HOPE | ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ in the new school year

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I love watching the Olympics. While the competition is intense, I am also drawn in by the beauty of the host country, the pageantry of the opening ceremonies, and the stories behind the athletes. This year's games have been more inspiring because faith has been more visible.

Let's start with the breathtaking topography of Rio de Janeiro. Topping this mountainous landscape is the statue of Christ the Redeemer, his arms open wide to the world. As the city's most recognizable landmark, it has been featured prominently in broadcasts and photos. As magnificent as it is, the most effective evangelizing during these weeks has been the athletes' examples. At an age when some young people focus on worldly things and drift away from God, it has been refreshing to hear these role models share about wisdom they have gained through faith.

When interviewed after their silver medal performance, synchronized divers David Boudia and Steele Johnson acknowledged that Jesus was the center of their lives. Johnson said, "the fact that I was going into this event knowing that my identity is rooted in Christ and not what the result of this competition is just gave me peace ... and it let me enjoy the contest." I have never heard a Christian athlete give such a simple, yet profound, summary of his priorities.

In a similar way, shotput champion Michelle Carter thanked the Lord in her post-competition interview and in her blog, writing, "God's blueprint for your life is different than the one you laid out for your life. Knowing that He has the final say, leave some room for some changes." Catholic gymnast Simone Biles keeps a rosary in her gym bag.

Swimmer Katie Ledecky is among 18 American Olympians who are alumni of Catholic schools, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. Catholic news outlets have widely reported that after the 2012 Olympics in London she visited the Bethesda, Md., convent of the sisters who taught at her Catholic elementary school to thank the sisters and let them try on her gold medal. She prays before each race, the Hail Mary being one of her favorite prayers.

Ledecky attended a Catholic high school that traces its American roots back to St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, telling the Catholic Standard, "Having the opportunity to attend academically rigorous schools has facilitated my interest in the world and in serving others, and has enriched my life so that it is not solely focused on my swimming and athletics. Nevertheless, going to these schools was important to my swimming — my Catholic schools challenged me, they broadened my perspective and they allowed me to use my mind in ways that take me beyond just thinking about swim practices, swim meets and sports."

The Olympic motto "Citius, Altius, Fortius" is Latin for "Faster, Higher, Stronger." This motto also describes the mission of Catholic schools. Like Olympic coaches and mentors, our Catholic educators help students grow and fully develop their God-given talents in sport, music, the arts, and academic disciplines. A unique aspect that Catholic education provides is that all of this growth occurs within the context of the student as a child of God. While we pursue excellence, our more important mission is to help students connect to God's higher purpose for their lives and grow stronger in virtue.

Over the summer, our teachers and administrators were busy preparing lessons, classrooms, and buildings. Now that it's August again, the flags of 140 Catholic schools and more than 120 PSR programs have filled our arena. The students are back, the cauldron is lit, and it's time to shine. Citius, Altius, Fortius!

Nelson is superintendent for Catholic education for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Read more about Olympians and their faith at 2016-olympics 

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