Happy Catholic Schools Week, everyone! In honor of this great week, let’s explore some of those who have helped shape what Catholic schools are today.
Saint John Baptist de La Salle
Saint John Baptist de La Salle founded the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools and was an innovator in the field of education. He is known for pioneering the idea of emphasizing classrooms over individual instruction, and he also began teaching in the vernacular, as opposed to Latin. Through his work in education, many schools were established and teachers were better instructed on how to teach students.
FUN FACT: Saint John Baptist de La Salle died on Good Friday, the day the Church commemorates the death of Jesus.
Saint Eugène de Mazenod
During the priesthood of Saint Eugène de Mazenod, France was ruled by Napoléon Bonaparte, the Bourbon monarchy, the July Monarchy, and Napoleon III. No matter who was in charge, French Catholic schools were persecuted. In Eugène de Mazenod, the Church found a tireless defender of the Church’s right to educate children.
“Others may be able to develop a youth’s intelligence with some degree of success, embellish his mind with useful knowledge, polish it, give it a finish, and make it susceptible to all the forms of art; but to seize his heart and cultivate it fruitfully, to root out evil from it and deposit in it the seeds of virtue, to mold his character and temper it with all the virtues that make for a happy and honorable life; no one can accomplish that unless he is inspired with the principles and sentiments of Faith, keeps constantly under the influence of the Church, and fecundates with her teachings the instruction he imparts.” – Saint Eugène de Mazenod
FUN FACT: Saint Eugène is the patron saint of dysfunctional families/families in crisis because while his family was in exile due to the French Revolution, his parents divorced.
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
A convert to the Catholic faith, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was the founders of the Sisters of Charity, the first religious order for women to originate in the United States. Her sisters were dedicated to educating and caring for children. She established the first Catholic school for girls in the United States. Without the work of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, there would be no parochial school system in America.
FUN FACT: Saint Elizabeth is the first native-born American to be canonized.
Saint John Neumann
In 1852, Saint John Neumann, who was able to hear confessions in 6 different languages, was named bishop of Philadelphia where he became the first to organize a diocesan Catholic school system. Due to his leadership, the number of catholic schools in the diocese of Philadelphia from 2 to 100.
FUN FACT: Saint John Neumann and Blessed John Henry Newman are two different people. You would not believe how long it took me to realize they were two different people. The fact that some people were saying “NOYman” and some were saying “NEWman” and the different spellings of their last names did not alert me to the fact that these two are different individuals.
Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart
Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart and some of her fellow Sisters of Charity of Providence (now Sisters of Providence) left Quebec in 1856 and traveled 6,000 miles to Washington Territory. Within 45 years of that journey, Mother Joseph and her sisters had established 30 schools in the Seattle/Vancouver area.
FUN FACT: Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart has been inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and the Pugent Sound Business Hall of Fame.
Saint Thomas Aquinas
Why is Saint Thomas Aquinas on this list? He wrote the Summa. ‘Nuff said!
FUN FACT: Saint Thomas Aquinas’ nickname was “the Dumb Ox.”
Your Parish Priest
Parochial elementary schools depend on the dedication of the parish’s pastor for survival. My alma mater (if one can use such a term with a grade school) was on the verge of closing due to diminishing attendance when the current pastor of my childhood parish arrived. Early on, he made it known that, if a family wanted to send their child to his school, he would not let tuition be the one factor that prevented that child from attending. He said, “I don’t how we’re going to make it work. It might take many meetings and a lot of math, but we are going to make it work.” I know this priest is not the only parish priest out there who has a similar attitude. Parochial schools thrive when they have strong leadership from the pastor, so if you have a thriving elementary school attached to your parish, thank your pastor.
This list is not exhaustive. There many other saints, priests, teachers, nuns, benefactors, and lay persons who have helped Catholic schools survive and thrive.
Who do you know that is courageously aiding Catholic education? Share in the comments below!