During this Catholic Schools Week 2020, it is an opportune moment to reflect on one of the more distinctive facets of Catholic schools: uniforms. Whether it be in school or in the community, the Catholic school uniform is a hallmark that distinguishes our Catholic schools and students. Why then, are school uniforms important to our Catholic mission?
Each person has an inherent dignity and worth because we are made in God’s image and likeness. Human dignity transcends all differences, and this most certainly includes the clothes you wear. There is no question that the internal disposition of a person matters far more than one’s external appearance. Jesus made this very clear to us, and I often think of St. John the Baptist as one whose outward appearance was rough, but whose faith was pure! What is happening in our heart, mind and soul is what truly matters most and we make a profound mistake when we judge people based on their external appearance. With all of that said, we can also say that one’s external disposition and appearance should be a reflection of the inner dignity given us by God. It follows then that the Catholic school uniform, and the way it is worn, can reflect a self-respect rooted in dignity and reverence for the God Who made you.
The uniform also creates a culture that inspires a sense of order in the students and in the school. As Catholic educators know well, the atmosphere in the school can be very different on dress-down days! Those days are needed and often provide positive energy and fun for the community, but there is a reason why they don’t happen everyday! The order that the uniform brings to the school culture creates a constructive learning environment for all. Catholic schools are communities and families, not a collection of isolated individuals.
The common uniform can, if we allow it, create a common bond of solidarity within the Catholic school, and a strong sense of identity and school spirit. When students are in the community, traveling to and from school, the uniform says something about who that student is and who the school is. In some areas, students courageously wear the Catholic school uniform at risk to their own safety. While Catholic schools should never be elitist, the education we provide is special, distinctive and should inspire young people to excellence in learning and life.
Moreover, the uniform cultivates a sense of modesty. In one sense, modesty means that there is no distinction by class. One’s background, whether one of wealth or poverty, is not apparent when the uniform is worn. The school uniform can and should remind us of our equality before God. Of course, modesty also means that we are able to limit the distractions that come with an “anything goes” approach. Also, the uniform promotes modesty because it is very economical. The cost savings to families can be significant.
Additionally, the school uniform prepares young people for success in a professional setting. As a part of the outstanding holistic education that our Catholic schools provide, uniforms equip and prepare our students for higher education and the workforce. Students learn the practical skills to present and comport themselves in a professional, responsible and dignified manner that employers want. Of course, what counts as “professional dress” is changing in the workforce, and there is no reason why Catholic schools can’t adapt accordingly!
Lastly, the uniform provides freedom. That’s right, freedom! Students and parents are relieved of the concern of having to worry about what to wear on a daily basis. Students don’t have to worry about impressing others. The uniform can teach humility and encourages students to simply “be yourself!” The uniform allows one’s personality to shine.
In conclusion, it is important to re-state that God is more concerned with the movements of the heart and thoughts of the mind. The internal disposition of our soul, our conscience, and our relationship with the Lord matter more than the clothing we wear. However, there are good reasons why we wear the uniform in Catholic schools that bear reflection and reminder. Have a happy and blessed Catholic Schools Week 2020!
Peter Shaughnessy is president/principal of Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth. He resides in Fairhaven with his wife, Anabela Vasconcelos Shaughnessy (Class of ’94), and their four children: Luke (Class of ’24), Emilia (Class of ’25), Dominic (Class of ’27) and Clare (Class of ‘30).