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Catholic teachers help build saints


Dialog reporter


Before classes begin, diocesan educators attended Spirituality Day

MILLTOWN — Teachers and administrators from Catholic schools from all over the Diocese of Wilmington received a reminder of why what they do is so important during their annual Spirituality Day, which was held Aug. 28 at St. Mark’s High School.

That message was reinforced by two familiar faces, Bishop Malooly and superintendent of schools Lou De Angelo, and by the keynote speaker, Father Stephen D. Thorne, pastor of St. Martin de Porres Parish in Philadelphia and chaplain of Neumann University in Aston, Pa.

To Jesus, through Mary

Father Thorne told the teachers they need to understand that in Catholic schools, faith and learning are woven together, which is one reason why Spirituality Day is so important.

“You cannot give what you do not have,” he said.

He also referenced the schools’ theme for the year, “To Jesus Through Mary.” Mary, he reminded the educators, “stood at the cross when the guys ran away. She is Our Mother of Sorrows and Our Lady of Victory.”

No schools educate children as well as Catholic ones, Father Thorne said. What makes Catholic schools distinct in a world with many educational choices is the way they go about their business. He encouraged teachers to be humble, courageous, joyful and prayerful.

To show the characteristics of humility, Father Thorne used the example of St. John Neumann, the fourth bishop of Philadelphia and the founder of the first Catholic diocesan school system in the United States. Humility, he said, is doing whatever is necessary to get a job done. Teachers, he added, have gifts and are called to let their light shine, not hide it under a bushel basket. That is what St. John Neumann did.

Called to build saints

“We’re called to equip and build saints,” he said. “And our kids are like sponges. They see and hear everything that we do and we say.”

St. Teresa of Avila is a great example of courage, the priest said, through her work to reform the Carmelite order to which she belonged. Father Thorne said he has seen images of St. Teresa in people in Texas who have had the courage to help others in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Catholic schools need teachers who welcome new students, who defend the bullied, and who can help our children be courageous, he said.

To illustrate joy, Father Thorne referred to St. Francis of Assisi. Francis was a rich man, but he knew joy came from fulfilling God’s wishes. Father Thorne said he hoped the joy the teachers showed when they were laughing and talking with each other earlier in the day at St. Mark’s bubbles over into their classrooms this year.

“Joy is the gift of the Holy Spirit. And let no one ever take your joy from you,” he said.

For the final characteristic, prayerfulness, Father Thorne’s example was a native Philadelphian, St. Katharine Drexel. She did not become a saint because her father had money. We have to learn to share, to take the word of God to others, as St. Katharine Drexel did through the schools she built, many of which served and continue to serve the underprivileged.

Schools as mini-parishes

During Mass at the beginning of the day, Bishop Malooly referred to the teachers as pastors of their own mini-parishes, which Father Thorne found appropriate.

“Sometimes it is only you who will talk about Jesus” or take the students to church, he said.

He asked the teachers if they shared Katharine Drexel’s passion, if they realize what a blessing it is to be able to teach children. “Are you and God friends, or do you just work for him?”

That reinforced a message Bishop Malooly had delivered during his homily.

Father Thorne also implored the educators to invite their children to use their gifts.

The bishop encouraged the teachers to make joy a component of their students’ education. The early Christians listened because what they heard changed their lives.

The day ended with a talk by De Angelo, who reiterated the five verbs that will be a benchmark of this academic year. (See his column on page 9.) The number of students enrolled in Catholic schools may be lower than it once was, but what happens in those buildings is as important as ever.

Jesus and the gospels

“We have formed the moral compass of innumerable people in our society today. We give our students … what nobody else can give them,” De Angelo said, referring to Jesus Christ and the gospels.

The day also included recognition for dozens of teachers and administrators celebrating milestone years in Catholic education. Two of them, Sisters of Mercy LaVerne King and Rosalie Pronsati, were honored for 50 years of service. Sister LaVerne is the principal of Christ the Teacher School in Glasgow and Sister Rosalie is a theology teacher there who also works in the business office.