Making the Decision Between Public and Catholic High School

This article is featured on Behold Vancouver.

n the spring of 2014, my wife Gail and I were facing a very important decision as we discussed and debated which high school our eldest son Sean would attend in the fall. We asked for Sean’s input, and he was quite open-minded  (although he admittedly preferred a co-ed school). As we considered Catholic high schools and public schools in Richmond, we considered a lot of things. 

We already had a little experience in this area. Gail had been an elementary school teacher in the Catholic school system for 15 years and I had been working in youth ministry and young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Vancouver for 12 years. To this date, some of our closest friends are teachers in Catholic elementary and high schools. We’d witness strong education in the children’s Catholic elementary school and we were aware of some of the wonderful things happening in the Catholic high schools (especially through my work in youth ministry).

Thus, we considered Catholic schools for a number of reasons.  Most prominent was the faith aspect. Sean would be surrounded by other young Catholics and taught by Catholic teachers. He would be able to frequent the sacraments at school.  And all of his extra-curricular activities would be faith-based.

We considered public school because of the convenience (both location and cost). Confident that Sean would continue in our parish youth ministry, we recognized an opportunity for him to witness to his faith to non-Christians. And both Gail and I attended public high school in Richmond and we turned out okay (or so we think).

We spoke to many family members, friends, and teachers. As expected, teachers in the Catholic school system showed us the benefits of Catholic high school and the public school teachers (many of them who were Catholic) talked about the benefits of the public school system. We did a lot of research. And of course, we prayed for God to give us guidance and the confidence to make a good decision. These were the main things we wrestled with while making the decision.


Living in Richmond, there wasn’t (and still isn’t) a Catholic high school in the city. We considered a few of the Catholic high schools in Vancouver and even attended their open houses. While we were generally impressed with what we saw and heard, we added up the extra time that Sean would be commuting to and from school. In the end, that time represented time he could have been studying, participating in extracurricular activities, volunteering at the parish (more on that later), developing new friendships, or spending time with our family. Our family time is very important to us, and we wanted to maximize it during this important transition year.

It was also cheaper to enroll Sean in a public high school, although admittedly that wasn’t a huge factor. We knew God would provide in terms of the financial commitment required to go to a Catholic high school.

Practically, with the commute time and the related logistics of getting to and from school, this made a lot of sense for our family life.

Providing them with a foundation

We loved having all three of our children go to Catholic elementary school. In fact, our youngest child Kayla will be getting Confirmed and will be finishing grade seven in the next couple of weeks. Sean, Jacob, and Kayla were blessed with faithful teachers and administrators, a supportive community, and strong parish leadership. Their elementary years gave them a solid foundation and helped to root them in their faith and get excited about it. In fact, both Sean and Jacob are currently teachers in the Parish Religious Education Program (PREP) and leaders in the parish youth ministry. Seeing them engage with their parish community is a huge part of how they continue to discover and strengthen their faith.

We also know that understanding faith is not just about being in a Catholic school. Much of what our children will learn about Catholicism starts with my wife and me in our home. As parents, we’re their primary role model, showing them what it means to love Jesus and one another. Children are observant and they pick up things that we say and do, and we never under-estimate just how important the responsibility to be witnesses of the faith at home.

Opportunity to witness

It’s because of this foundation that we feel comfortable with putting them in environments like the public schools. In fact, we looked at it as an opportunity for them to share and strengthen their faith. It’s often a challenge to defend your faith among your peers, especially as part of the “minority”.  The boys were constantly looking for opportunities to share their faith and even invite their friends to church.  

In witness to their Catholic faith in their high school, the boys were well-respected by their fellow students and their teachers. I’m certain that their faith also helped them navigate tricky and stressful times, and hope that by standing out a little from the crowd, it helped root their beliefs even more.

It’s always tough to be a teen

Teens today are busier and over-scheduled more than ever before. But their fundamental needs will always remain constant: to be loved and to be accepted.

That’s why peer pressure, temptation, and the comparison game will always exist whether you go to a Catholic or public high school. Catholic school will not shelter children from the realities of teenage life, just like my Catholic faith doesn’t shield me from the realities of adulthood.

Our children certainly aren’t perfect and neither are we as parents. Like any family, we’ve had our ups and downs along the way but this has been a great decision for our family.

If you’re having trouble deciding for your family, it’s important to consider what makes the most sense for your child and for your family. Weigh all the options. Talk to other people. Pray. 

God is good and God is faithful. Trust that He will help your child to thrive no matter what school he or she is in.

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