Do Catholic schools really matter? Young adults say 'Yes': Meet Robyn Williams

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 Robyn Williams

If she had not gone to a Catholic high school, Robyn Williams says, “I might have gotten a little lost in the shuffle of people and I definitely would have had to search for opportunities to deepen my faith.”

At St. Francis High School in Sacramento, she didn’t have to search for those opportunities. “There are so many ways to express your faith at a Catholic school,” says Robyn, who is 35. “Masses, theology classes, morning meditation, praying the rosary, getting involved in service, retreats, whatever speaks to the student.

“All those are available — some take advantage, some don’t. For me it was a natural thing. I have always had a love of my Catholic faith. I remember being very young at St. Mary School (in Sacramento) and praying at Mass while other kids were messing around in the pews.”

At St. Francis, her childhood faith blossomed. “I entered my theology courses, service opportunities and schoolwide Masses with respect, reverence and genuine interest. They deepened my faith, rounded out my faith.”

Robyn went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in humanities and religious studies at California State University, Sacramento, in 2006 as well as a master’s degree in liberal arts in 2009. She returned to St. Francis to teach in 2007 as a long-term substitute in the English department and is now sharing her faith as chair of the theology department, where she teaches social justice to seniors and the sacraments and interfaith dialogue to juniors.

“Throughout my formative years and into college I contemplated religious life, but discerned that this was not God's path for me. I did not have a clear direction of what that would look like until God placed the opportunity of working at St. Francis in my lap. Being able to express my faith as my profession is a blessing every day — to talk about God, to learn from others, to pray, to go to Mass is such a blessing. I sort of fell into it, but it was part of God’s plan for me.”

Another part of that plan is marriage. Robyn and her husband, Bobby, who also teaches theology at St. Francis, have a three-year-old son, Jude, and a daughter coming in March. “People can choose the single life or go into a religious order, but for me being married and having children – there is no more experiential way to try to live out God’s love and understand God’s sacrificial love for us.

“In our modern culture — much of it is consumer-driven and about the individual — we hear messages that go against the deep meaning of Christian matrimony, about self-sacrifice and the love of another person. When you sway toward where the culture is leading, you miss the deep fulfillment marriage brings. If I am really trying to spend my life understanding God’s love and emulating God’s love, then marriage is the perfect way for me to attempt that pursuit.”

Robyn found another part of God’s plan in St. Mary Parish, where she grew up and where she still lives. In her 20s, she was active in many ministries. As her family has grown, she has cut back a bit. “You can’t go up and serve as a eucharistic minister and leave a three-year-old in the pew,” she says with a smile. She continues to serve in the parish bereavement ministry and longs to become more active again when her children are a bit older.

Does she have a message for Catholics of her age who no longer practice the faith? “I don’t want to put my own experience on anyone else,” she says, “but this is what I would miss out on: definitely a sense of community. That is especially true in a world where people are so much into their own lives and worlds and phones. They miss what community brings to your life – support when you need it, joy when you are celebrating.

“Being a part of the body of Christ means you are connected to everyone. I don’t experience the fullness of that if I’m not praying, if I’m not going to Mass, not receiving the Eucharist. Then I would not be deepening my faith. I would be at a standstill. It’s like exercise — you get out of shape spiritually.”

Catholic Herald Issue