Do Catholic schools really matter? Young adults say 'Yes': Meet Eric Jackson

Catholic schools across the nation will celebrate Catholic Schools Week Jan. 26 to Feb. 1, providing an opportunity to showcase how they demonstrate their value time and time again – with superior academic outcomes and high graduation and college placement rates, all supported by strong moral values.

No doubt, Catholic graduates make a positive contribution to society and are more likely to practice their faith as young adults. Studies conducted in the past five years by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University show that among millennials (young adults born since 1982), there is a strong correlation between Catholic education and Mass attendance with Catholic-educated young adults more than six times more likely to attend Mass weekly, participate in their parish, volunteer and tithe. Twenty-three percent of millennial Catholics have attended a Catholic elementary school at some point in their lives. Four millennial-age Catholic school alumni of the Diocese of Sacramento – Ameyalli Chavez, Eric Jackson, Robyn Williams and Patrick Arguelles — are living proof that Catholic schools do matter. They share their experiences with Catholic Herald magazine, all citing the component of their faith as the guiding force in their lives.

Meet Eric Jackson

Sacramento native Eric Jackson, 28, has been shaped by his lifelong exposure to Catholic schools. He offers his particular take on an important opportunity and challenge to Catholic schools today.

“Many of the values I live out daily, I attribute to my Catholic education,” says Eric, who lives across the street from St. Dominic Parish in San Francisco, where he has been actively involved in young adult ministry since 2016. He is also a young adult ministry representative to the Archdiocese of San Francisco, helping to organize events for young Catholic professionals in the city.

“The commitment to serving others, especially serving the poor, and working for social justice are ingrained in me from Catholic schools,” he says. But despite these particular values emphasized throughout his early years, he says his true understanding and praxis of the faith didn’t come until after his first 12 years of Catholic education, and it was through devout Catholic peer groups outside of the classroom.

“The challenge for Catholic schools today is not only to instill these universal values of ‘compassion for others’ – values held even by the secular world – but to truly teach children about the doctrines of the church and to form them as knowledgeable, practicing Catholics and ultimately, future saints,” he says. “Nothing else matters more than becoming a saint.”

He graduated from St. Francis of Assisi School in Sacramento in 2005 and Jesuit High School in Carmichael in 2009. From Boston College, a Jesuit university, he received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and theology in 2013 and a master’s degree in linguistics in 2015.

He was baptized at St. John Vianney Parish in Rancho Cordova and received the sacraments of first Eucharist, reconciliation and confirmation while at St. Francis School. His “first conversion” experience was during the eighth grade, after having some in-depth conversations at home with his father, “opening up the Gospels to me as life lessons,” he says.

Eric chose to attend Jesuit as his father is an alumnus. “I knew of its reputation for academic life, spirituality and service,” he says. “I started to grow deeper in my faith and encounter the great thinkers of the Western world for the first time — Plato, Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas – and opened up to the great philosophical and theological traditions.” He was involved in many service projects, including volunteering at Loaves & Fishes charity in Sacramento and other urban immersion experiences.

Eric says he didn’t come to fully know and love the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and reconciliation, until he was in college and as a young adult. “The peer groups at Boston College were amazing,” he recalls. “I met other faithful, devout Catholics who taught me more about the sacraments and the liturgical life of the church.”

Eric met his fiancee, Andrea Fredrickson, in the young adult ministry and they will be married in 2020. He currently is a linguist and brand strategist at Salt Branding in San Francisco. Sometimes his coworkers ask him questions about this faith and he is happy to share with them.

“My desk is covered with crucifixes and icons, so people know I am Catholic. Some coworkers have questions about the faith or share a story with me. I’m very much into expressing who I am, and not ashamed of the Lord or the cross. Our goal as Catholics is not to be just an ‘in club.’ Our mission as we leave Mass is that we are sent out into the world. I pray that I can evangelize even in the context of a secular job.”

His advice to Catholic young adults who are estranged from their faith or the church? “I ask them a very simple question, using words from the Lord himself,” Eric says. “The first words Christ utters in the Gospel of John occur after he was baptized in the Jordan. He simply says to the two disciples following him: What do you seek? So I say to young adults: What are you looking for? What do you want? What do you long for? Is it community? Friendship? Human connection? Beauty? Love? If you long for these things, I invite you to come hang out with me and my friends. Come to the church, which is the source of all those things.”

Catholic Herald Issue