BSM welcomes students of non-Catholic faiths

Sarah Karels, Staff Writer

According to the Benilde-St. Margaret’s website, 72% of the school population is Catholic. While the majority of students are Catholic, many students do not realize that nearly 28% of the school, or around 332 of the 1,184 students do not share the faith the school was founded on. In addition, many of these students are not Christian, or non-religious. Despite being a Catholic school, BSM has welcomed a wide variety of faiths into both its halls, and its religion classes.

One of the major challenges for the Religion Department is ensuring that religion classes are respectful and nurturing environments for all faith perspectives to grow and develop. “First and foremost what we try to do in our classrooms is try and make a safe environment for all students, regardless of their faith background,” said Mrs. Becca Meagher, head of the religion department.

For some faiths, however this presents more of a challenge than others. “I think for Christian students who aren’t Catholic, the material is not as far off. Of course we feature the Catholic teachings, but the core principles are the same. I think the real challenge comes in with non-Christian students, in particular our Jewish students. Our curriculum is very Christo-centric, especially since the move to the new Bishop’s framework,” Mrs. Meagher said.

Benilde has always been welcoming to Jewish students, and has maintained a positive relationship with the neighboring Beth-El Synagogue. Students who are Jewish are attracted to the school due to its friendly and skilled teachers. “When I visited I met great teachers and faculty who I thought would be a great fit for me,” Jewish junior Xander Edelman said.

Religion class is a good way to get to know about other religions. I find that I come out of the class knowing a little more about Catholicism.”

— Xander Edelman

The Religion Department does what it can to help students like Edelman, and look at other faiths from an educational standpoint while still broadening the students’ own faith view. “We work with students on a one-to-one basis if needed and might make minor changes to expectations to respect their faith. For example if an assignment calls for using New Testament text, we might tell a Jewish student that they may look to the Old Testament,” Mrs. Meagher said.

The effects of this kind of an environment seem to be paying off for students like Edelman. “Religion class is a good way to get to know about other religions. I find that I come out of the class knowing a little more about Catholicism,” Edelman said.

A positive classroom experience has also benefited other non-Catholic students at BSM. “I’ve really enjoyed the religion classes here and I think it’s a cool opportunity to be able to learn about a religion other than your own because it really puts things into perspective and helps you understand the world around you better,” said Ava Azadegan s a senior who is a member of the Baha’i faith.

The hardest part is probably…not knowing things about the Church that are common knowledge to others.”

— Ava Azadegan

However, that’s not to say that there aren’t challenges to being a faith minority at BSM. For many students who do not identify as Catholic, religion classes may focus on new material that the students have never heard before. Whereas many of BSM’s Catholic students have been raised on the doctrines of the Church, or are at least aware of them, many non-Catholic students have not had previous experience with the Church’s teachings. “The hardest part is probably…not knowing things about the Church that are common knowledge to others,” Azadegan said.

The transition to Catholic based classes may prove especially difficult for non-Christian students, however many have learned to adjust. “I went to my first religion class in 7th grade at Benilde. At that time I was really confused about everything including the prayers, masses, and reconciliations. Now, I can actually understand the materials we talk about and connect it outside religion,” said sophomore Jason Kang, who comes from a Buddhist family.

Despite the challenges of attending a Catholic school, many non-Catholics at BSM still enjoy the encouraging setting here. “I think BSM have done a great job helping students with different religions adjust to Catholic environment. Besides, BSM never forces a student to chance his/her perspective to satisfy Catholicism,” Kang said.